From That – To This

It feels a little as though things have been turned upside down. (Not a Hamilton reference, believe it or not – although the sentiment is the same…) Since the white supremacist flyers were distributed in our town’s neighborhoods, all of the fears and anger and hatred that were happening Somewhere Else, that had seemed almost hypothetical, were suddenly impossible to ignore. It was one of my most difficult parenting moments – my daughters and husband being targeted for their race, knowing others’ privacy had been violated, wondering if we would be next. I began having difficulty sleeping; I awoke every morning anxious to see if our driveway had been hit, if, on the way to school, our girls would find strips of paper disavowing their existence.

Turns out, I was far from the only person feeling this way. Within 48 hours of the initial intimidation campaign, a meeting was scheduled for local residents to discuss a counter-response. Over 50 people showed up on a Sunday afternoon, including Nick and me; we strategized, imagined, and shared ideas on how to organize a visible anti-racist, inclusive message – both in the immediate aftermath and well beyond. A group was formed: Pittsforward. I left the meeting feeling wary but energized, so grateful that others were willing to be brave enough to come together and say, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” rather than silently condemning from the safety of our houses.

We agreed that, among other things, a march or walk of some kind was in order. Exactly one week later, all of the details were in place and we gathered for our Unity Walk.

(I always have said I’m not the kind of person who marches for stuff; it’s just not my thing. Turns out, when you literally bring hate to our neighborhoods and driveways, I have a different reaction. Funny, that.)

It wasn’t just the 50 of us, however; hundreds upon hundreds of people showed up to stroll peacefully en masse through our little town, joyfully and resolutely declaring that racism will not be accepted here, that we stand united, that we celebrate our differences, and that everyone is welcome here.

That so many residents in my community wanted to stand with one another and say, NO, NOT HERE! was deeply heartening. That they did so in a steady rain kind of blew my mind. img_7253img_7255

Neither of our girls was particularly looking forward to the walk. Part of this was our waiting until the last minute to tell them about it, and part of this was their relative lack of perspective on why something like this was worthwhile. Often, when Ella or Annie strongly object to participating in a “family” outing, either Nick or I will step in to say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t so important; let’s allow her to skip it.” (Like, I might say this regarding a hockey game and Nick might say it regarding a dance performance. YOU KNOW, JUST AS HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLES.)

On this, however, we were in agreement: our family would walk, period. It was important. It was necessary. We were going, driving rain or sunshine. (Side note: we would have preferred the latter.)
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So, this is a totally crappy photo… It’s actually a screen shot – from my phone – of a video that was shown by one of our local television stations.
Still, it’s the only photo (such as it is) of us at the walk, so… yeah.

After almost 41 years of tearing up at Budweiser commercials and getting misty over inspirational memes on Pinterest,  you’d think, by now, that I would expect to be emotional at things like this. Apparently I still surprise myself, because I was not prepared to become so choked up at the sight of everyone in their raincoats and umbrellas, coming together to support one another.
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Low bridge, everybody down… (Get it?)

There were families with kids – from babies in strollers to high schoolers. Some were biracial families, like ours. Others had adopted children of mixed race. Others were all people of color. And, alongside them, hundreds of white folks – who, despite being “included” in the “acceptable” list provided in the supremacist flyers, found their rhetoric anything but acceptable.

There were older couples without any children (accompanying them). There were college students. There were groups of adults with signs and placards. There were women in headscarves. There were priests in collared shirts. We passed our local Chabad House, where members were preparing for the start of Rosh Hashanah; despite their preparations, they stepped outside to wave and join our chorus.

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A couple of the many signs from the walk…

We walked behind our local Flower City Pride Band, their 60s and 70s rock songs providing us a cheerful soundtrack. Police had cordoned off portions of our little town to make it safe for the marchers to go by; they were on hand, directing the traffic that inevitably backed up. As we passed them, we leaned into their patrol cars to thank them for being there. And, at the end, we gathered – alongside many of our locally elected officials and members of the school board – in a town park. The display of love in the face of hate, of support in the face of threats, was so incredibly powerful.

We can do this. Together, we can do this. Just look at all the people willing to say so.

I will fully admit it: I cried. More than once.
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Because our little town is, indeed, little, the entire affair lasted only twenty minutes or so… but that was enough. We said what we needed to say. We were where we needed to be. And, whether they understand or not – whether they like it or not – we showed our girls what it means to stand up for diversity, acceptance, and love.

There is a time for deliberate indifference, for willful ignoring. I absolutely believe that, sometimes, the best way to handle an ignorant bully is to not even acknowledge their existence – to not give them the attention they’re seeking. I also believe that, sometimes, when a bully pushes too hard, when they threaten you by coming to your turf rather than spouting their message from afar, a strong, direct, vocal opposition is exactly what’s needed.

The time had passed for quietly shaking our heads in disapproval. We needed to take a stand, to make it clear that not only would we not tolerate this kind of hate and propaganda being delivered to our homes, but we also celebrate our differences and our diversity. Perhaps most of all: we are not alone. 

I’m a silver lining kind of girl (see: yes, the basement flooded, but at least the floor is clean!). The flyers were certainly The Bad. But there is The Good, too: people are no longer content to be complacent. We are making connections, having conversations, coming together. We are recognizing that our neighborhoods are more than just where we live; they’re also the people who live there. If nothing else, the flyers’ aftermath has caused me to want to get to know my neighbors better, because it’s much more difficult to hate and fear someone you’ve talked with face to face.

This isn’t going to change overnight. Yes, the walk was tremendous and important.But there is so much more to do to make our community truly inclusive, safe, and open to other viewpoints. Together, we can make a difference in our community. I have to believe it’s so, because the alternative is just not okay.

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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.

Osmosis Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, it was a truly magnificent sixty minutes.

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

Bee’s Knees

When the house phone rings at 8:20 on a weekday morning, there are really only two possibilities as to who will be on the line: Nick or my dad. If Nick is out of town, there’s a good chance it’s him, calling to say hello to the girls before they get on with their day. If Nick is home, it’s definitely my father.

Prior to his retirement last year, my dad did not call us on weekday mornings. In fact, I’m not sure that I can recall a single time when he phoned me while he was at work, ever, unless he needed an immediate answer to a particularly pressing question. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to speak with me, but rather that, when he was at work, he was working – hard – period, the end. Once I graduated college, we chatted fairly regularly, but always after 5 p.m., save for the pressing question times.
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Together on his birthday this year, one of few we’ve been able to celebrate together since moving to Rochester nearly eight years ago.

When my dad phoned us that first Monday after he retired – just because he could, because he wasn’t at the office, didn’t have any meetings to attend, didn’t have an agenda that had to be considered – it was a fun novelty, but I assumed it was a one-off. Lo and behold, however, the calls kept coming; not daily or even weekly, but every couple of weeks, the phone rings at 8-something in the morning and my dad is on the other end.

He doesn’t want to speak with me, though. No, he’s calling to talk to Ella and Annie, and they know it. “Oh – it’s Papa calling again!” they’ll say as they scramble to pick up the phone.

Occasionally, if they’re in a particular rush to get out the door or are moving at a snail’s pace and are behind in their routine, they’ll hear the familiar ringing and whine, “Mom, we’re too busy! Do we have to answer?”

And every single time, my response is, “Yes, you absolutely do.”
And every single time, they do. And, when they hang up, they are glad that they did.
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Kiawah, spring 2015

Because they know why their Papa is calling; I’ve confirmed this, just to be sure.

“Mom, why does Papa call us so much?”

Why do you think he does?

“I don’t know. Because he wants to say hi?”

That’s part of it.

“Because he wants to hear our voices before we go to school?”

That’s another part of it.

“Because he’s retired now so he likes to call just because he can?”

Yep, that’s another…

“Oh! And because he’s thinking about us and he wants us to know!”

Yes, there’s that, too. But you’re forgetting the biggest reason why Papa calls you in the morning.

“What?”

I bet if you really think about it you can figure it…

“Do you mean because he loves us?”

NAILED IT!

“Well, duh. We knew that.

So, to recap, their Papa calls them on school days because he is thinking about them, so that he can hear their voices, and so that he can tell them he loves them. Those are pretty damned good reasons to pick up the phone.

This past year since my dad’s retirement has been, hands down, my favorite of our relationship. Seeing him more often, being able to truly enjoy him and vice versa, has been an incredible gift. I’ve always known that my dad thinks I’m awesome; seeing him pass the same message to my own children is one of the greatest things I know.
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At the girls’ final swim meet of the year, which was in February. Given that my dad and GrandMeg had just come to visit us over Christmas and had – unexpectedly – been able to attend a swim meet, I’d told him that they didn’t have to come all the way back in February to repeat the adventure. My dad’s response: “Are you kidding? We wouldn’t miss it!”

Because that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To know that someone thinks you’re awesome? That you’re the bee’s knees? To believe their feelings down to your core?

Annie and Ella are fortunate enough to have dozens of family members who think that they’re the bee’s knees. Their own daddy is no exception. Nick was away this weekend participating in his annual guys’ day tournament; we’re used to him being out of town, but being gone on a Saturday or Sunday is unfamiliar. When the tournament was first scheduled and I knew that he’d be flying back on Father’s Day, I assumed that he’d sleep in, hang with the guys, take a flight that best suited him, and return later in the day. After all, on Father’s Day, he should spend his time exactly how he wants.

Instead, he booked a 6:30 a.m. flight, landing in Rochester before I’d even awakened… because it was Father’s Day, and what he wanted most of all was to spend it with his kids.

He thinks they’re that awesome. And they know it.

I don’t know much about actual bee’s knees, but I do know that being the bee’s knees feels pretty damned fantastic.
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Father’s Day surf and turf!
I love the way Ella is looking at her daddy in this photo.

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Because I have been thinking of it all day, I would be terribly remiss in not giving a shout-out to another man who thought that Ella, Annie, Nick, his sisters (Nelle and Em) and their families and I were the bee’s knees: my father-in-law, Bill. Today* would have been Bill’s 72nd birthday. A double-whammy: Father’s Day and a birthday. I so wish he were here to celebrate with us – to see his oldest grandson turn five yesterday, to see his middle grandson sing Frozen songs, to meet his youngest grandson, who is just six weeks old.

We love and miss you, Grandpa Bill, and think you’re the bee’s knees, too.
(Which is probably a good thing, because you had bad knees.)
Happy Father’s (Birth)Day!

* This was written on 6/21 but, due to a scheduling snafu (i.e. time for bed!), won’t be published until 6/22…
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grandpa bill laugh
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To Say Hello

My grandma (Phoofsy to Ella and Annie and many others) – always said that life was worth living so long as you were having fun. A little less than two weeks ago, unexpectedly and suddenly and to our stunned shock and heartbreak, Phoofsy stopped having fun.

You guys. I just… It’s simply not okay.

Living so near her these past eight years was one of the reasons that moving to Rochester was such a fantastic decision. My grandma was our guidepost, our touchstone, our sounding board and cheerleader, our adventure buddy, and our constant partner for dinner, games, and talking. We have never lived here without her and, honestly, I feel as though we’ve been cut adrift; Nick and I hadn’t realized how much she grounded us and made us whole.

I miss her so much, I cannot begin to put it into words.
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We have spent every Easter with Phoofsy since we moved here.
This year was no different.

Losing Phoofsy has been difficult for Ella and Annie as well. Sadly, they are quite familiar with loss (most importantly, their Grandpa Bill, and to a much lesser extent – although fresh on their minds – our Madison), but never before have they had to say goodbye to someone who was an integral part of our daily lives, someone whose presence would be noticeably absent at soccer games, swim meets, birthdays, evenings beside the fireplace, Sunday brunch, Wednesday nights, and every day in between.

This is an active, different kind of grieving, for all of us.
Not better. Not worse. Not harder or easier. Just different.

My mom and stepdad drove up to the lake the day after my grandma passed away and immediately got to the business of sorting through Phoofsy’s affairs (and providing lots of hugs and memories and laughs); we loved getting the chance to see them, even under these circumstances. As our little family foursome was driving back from the lake last weekend – the first-ever we’d spent there without my grandma – the conversation naturally turned toward Phoofsy.
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Playing The Lake Game on Memorial Day, my grandma was absolutely tickled that she managed to successfully flip her cup. We were absolutely tickled, too.

Things began simply enough, sharing stories and memories, but soon moved onto more metaphysical, abstract thinking. It started with Nick telling them that he was comforted by the idea that, one minute, Phoofsy was here and healthy, the next there was some brief confusion, and the very next, she was seeing Great‘s face as he said to her, “What took you so long?”

Annie and Ella were intrigued by this and wanted to hash things out, so we kept talking. “Where do you think Phoofsy is right now?” “If there’s heaven, do you stay the same age as you are when you die?” “Can people who have already died leave ‘messages’ for those of us who are still here?” 

As they discussed their conceptions of heaven, Nick and I grew more and more entranced. The girls’ ideas were absolutely fascinating and far more interesting and nuanced than anything I’ve imagined in my nearly-forty years. In fact, their thoughts were so lovely, so simultaneously comforting and thought-provoking, I asked if I could share them with you.
They graciously agreed.
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Chuckling that her poker hand was better than Ella’s.
Even when you’re 84 years older than your great-granddaughter, victory is sweet. 

—————-

“In heaven, you can be any age you want, and you can change that age whenever you like. So, if you had a really great time when you were twelve, you get to be twelve. Then, if you want to feel what it was like to be fifty again, you can be fifty for a while. Oh! And the person you’re with – like, if Phoofsy is with Great – can be another age, too. ‘Cause you know how Great was 86 when he died but Phoofsy was almost 95? That might not be fair, for her to be older, just ’cause she got to live longer. They might want to be the same age again – so they can be, together.”

(I don’t know what age I want to be yet, but that sounds pretty much like the best idea ever.)

“I think, in heaven, you can live out a dream while you’re awake. Like, you know how when you wake up after you’ve had an awesome dream and you suddenly realize it was just a dream and you’re so sad? Well, in heaven, you actually get to do the dream while you’re awake – you never have to miss anything! So Phoofsy and Great and Grandpa Bill can live out all of their dreams, for real – not just dreaming – every single day.”

(OMG THAT IS AWESOME.)

“But it’s okay to sometimes miss things. I think people in heaven might sometimes be sad. I mean, they’re mostly happy – it’s heaven after all, and they can see their friends and they can travel all around the world and have those dreams – but I think there’s a little sadness… Because life has sadness. We have to have some sadness to appreciate the happiness. Without a little, tiny bit of sadness, heaven wouldn’t be real.”

(Appreciation and perspective, even in heaven. Very cool.)

“When you’re in heaven, if you get to travel all around the world and be any age you want, I want to be a baby for a little while.” 

(Interject our incredulity. A baby?? But wouldn’t that be… boring?)

“Well, that’s the thing. We think it would be boring right now because we can’t see inside a baby’s mind and we don’t remember what it was like to be a baby. But if I could be a baby, but have my regular mind, I could see what life was like when I was a baby and actually remember it.”

(Scratch what I said before. THAT may be the best idea ever.)

“And I know that, once people are dead, they’re gone and all that. But I think they’re still with us, too — not just in our hearts, though, like people say. I think – and I know this is kind of weird – but I think that people can come and visit for a while. You can’t see them, you can’t feel them, you don’t even know they’re there… But they are. Maybe they walk with you to school. Maybe they sit next to you at dinner. Maybe they ride beside you in the car. Then, suddenly, you have a good memory of that person and it makes you feel better… and it’s because they were right there with you for just a little bit, visiting. Not all creepy like a ghost! Just a good feeling, because they came to say hello.”

—————
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Mother’s Day 2015

Ella and Annie don’t talk too much about being sad, but I know that Phoofsy is on their minds. Every day since she died, both girls, of their own accord, have made absolutely certain to keep something of hers with them; Ella now carries her books in one of Phoofsy’s old purses; Annie wears her hats around the house. Hardly a day has gone by when they haven’t worn one of her necklaces to school even though, normally, necklaces aren’t their thing.

Every time I see them toting her bags, donning her jewelry, adorned in her hats… a fleeting, glowing smile crosses my heart.

And I have no doubt Phoofsy has come to say hello.
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What Love Looks Like

It’s been a busy week. You know the kind – husband out of town, subbing, kids’ extra-curriculars, errands, sick kiddo. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing insurmountable, but just plain busy.

I had really been looking forward to going to church on Thursday night. Ella and Annie know how important this is to me; they’ve even accompanied me before when Nick’s been away so that I didn’t have to miss out. (Getting to consume Panera baked goods, use their iPads, and play with the toys that pastor Nancy brings may also have something to do with their agreement, but whatever.)

This week, though, was different. If I went to church – and by default, took them with me – they’d be gone (swimming, soccer, homework, babysitter, driving, move, move, move!) from the moment that school got out until bedtime. No playing with friends, no relaxing at home. It was a lot to ask, especially considering the busyness of the week, the sick kiddo (who had just returned to school and, I assumed, would be tired), and the toad they’d found in the back yard the day before, taken into captivity, and desperately wanted to torture play with.

So, I told them the decision was in their hands. If they were game to be away from home for the entire afternoon and evening, to bring our dinner with us and then eat it at Panera, to wait while I did my church thing, then we’d go. But if they weren’t – if they were too tired, if they really wanted to go home, if they needed some downtime, if they just didn’t want to do it, then we wouldn’t. I told them that I was good with either decision; I meant it.

They decided they wanted to go. That, despite the crazy long day, the running around, the eating out of a cooler and not playing with their friends, we would go… so that I could get my church on. They did it for me. (And Nancy’s toys and the brownie I bought them, but hey. For me.)

On the way home, we chatted – as we do – and I thanked them. For coming with me, for giving up their free time, for being so patient, for enabling me to go to church, which I so deeply love. I told them I adore being with these women, and I feel good whenever I do so, and that I was really grateful they’d allowed me to attend.

“Um, you’re welcome. But mom,” they protested, “You didn’t get to go last week. And it means so much to you. And we love you. So we said yes.”

I started to thank them again when they added, “We also really like Miss Nancy’s toys.”
Fair enough.

This is what love looks like.

It’s not the flashy signs or the expensive gifts or the dramatic proclamations of adoration (although it can be those things too; I wouldn’t complain). It’s the littler things, the ones that you don’t even think about, the ones that are so basic and mundane, they are all but unnoticed – but they are the love foundation that holds everything else up.

Love looks like your husband setting his alarm in the mornings on business trips, even when he’s in another time zone, so that he can be sure he has enough time to call your daughters before they go to school.

Love looks like your camp friend, whom you haven’t seen in 20 years, posting a message to your Facebook wall of long-forgotten camp songs and rhymes.

Love looks like your grandma saving packets of oyster crackers from her dinnertime soup and giving them to your daughters the next time she sees them, just because she knows they enjoy them.

It looks like your babysitter taking time out of her college graduation party to sit and talk with your kiddos, even though she has dozens of other guests to attend to. It looks like your other babysitter sending a thank-you note for the goodbye sign your daughters made her because she will miss them over the summer.

It is your father sending you links to stories from The New York Times because he thinks you might like them – stories that you would never have checked out on your own but you’re darned glad you did. It is doggie poop bags showing up at your door in an Amazon box after your mother reads on Facebook about how you never seem to have enough bags to pick up after your dogs.

Love looks like remembering that one child prefers the tops of asparagus while the other prefers the bottoms. It looks like the Valentine’s Day cards that show up in the mail from grandparents and uncles. It looks like taking a friend’s call even though you only have five minutes to talk because you know she had important news to share; it also looks like understanding when a friend doesn’t take your call because, hey, sometimes you just can’t talk right now and that’s okay.

Love looks like setting out sneakers for your daughter on gym day but also not bringing them to her at school if she forgets; love looks like allowing her to make mistakes and learn from them, then offering her a hug when she does.

It looks like friends inviting you over for a drink and some catching-up. It looks like your neighbors offering to watch your kids while you run an errand. It looks like the person at the gas station holding the door open for you.

Sometimes, love looks like opulence and flattery and vacations. Other times, it looks like remembering how you like your coffee. It looks like, “I’ll be right over.” It looks like your husband and daughters remembering that what one of the things you’d like most for Mother’s Day is time to write messages to your friends, and giving you time to do so.

Love looks like doing your spelling homework in the car and your science studying beside the soccer field and not returning home until bedtime so that your mama can get to church.

And for me, love looks like these folks.
Amen.
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That this was taken inside the hotel where we spent Mother’s Day eve certainly doesn’t hurt… Love does come in all shapes and sizes, after all.