A Different Kind of Church

Dear God,
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As you know, when I became a parent, I had hopes and dreams for my kids. Some of those were the usual growing-up wishes (be healthy, learn to tie their shoes, not get suspended, win a Nobel prize). Others were more specifically related to my desire for them to dig the stuff that I dig.
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I hoped they would love snow instead of curse it. I crossed my fingers they’d like games and puzzles, envisioning late night hands of Hearts or all-family Scattergories battles. Enjoying chocolate fell somewhere between a want and a necessity; I could probably have let it slide if they agreed that bacon makes everything better.
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Ella and Annie have fulfilled those hopes, and then some. They have their own interests, of course. And they certainly don’t like everything that I do. (I had to go through some actual mourning when I finally came to terms with the fact that they are probably not summer camp kids and will likely never sleep away at my childhood haunt.)
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This makes it all the sweeter when they genuinely fall in love with something that makes my world go ’round. I mean, their enjoyment of most things Disney has totally made their teething days worthwhile. But it was what happened last Sunday – and my realization that they share one of my passions as deeply as I do – that made me decide to write to you.
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My girls are musicals maniacs.
Just like their mama (and their grandmama before).
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School of Rock, 2015
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Growing up an hour outside of Manhattan, my family and I were fortunate enough to make it to the Big Apple several times a year to see the musicals on the Great White Way.
My mom was a theater major in college – which, in my eyes, made her all-knowledgeable. Whenever possible, we would sit in the front row of the balcony or mezzanine so that she could point out the stage markings. I was fascinated to learn that miniature Xs indicated STAND HERE, thrilled every time I could see someone waiting in the wings.
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It wasn’t just the performances, however. Before that curtain ever went up, this feeling would begin to build. (Not loathing; trust me.) It began with seeing the show’s name glittering on the marquee, increasing as the ushers greeted us at the door and continuing to grow as we stopped at the concession stand (you think we missed an opportunity to grab Junior Mints, Milk Duds, or Peanut M&Ms? Think again).
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My first Broadway musical, 1980
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Every theater in my memory is adorned in velvet, with plush carpeting wall-to-wall, curving staircases, chandeliers, gilded portraits. Although we scarcely dressed up for other more formal locations (*cough* church), we always wore “something nice” to see a Broadway musical. Which, come to think of it, was kind of like church to me.
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When I close my eyes even now and imagine settling into my seat (always too small and uncomfortable), then hearing the opening strains of the overture prior to the curtain rising… that same feeling, that rush of adrenaline, fills me. Something was starting – something organic, something unique to that moment; an exchange between the performers and the audience, where we could be lead into a world that, minutes ago, didn’t exist. It was redeeming and transcendental. I came alive and was made new, whole, believing.

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Yes, musicals were definitely my church. Sorry, God.
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Meeting the cast of the incredible Lion King touring production, 2011
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Over the years, there were hits and misses. We walked out of at least one production but saw others twice out of sheer adoration. I was in high school when Les Mis and Phantom rose to popularity, which meant I was at that perfect, angsty, drama-prone age where it actually sounded romantic to be seduced/kidnapped by a mystical, abusive, masked madman or ponder being forever on my own (pretending he’s beside me). For hours, I listened to those shows’ soundtracks in my bedroom, poring over every heart-tugging word, every climactic chord change, every piercing harmony.
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I prayed over musicals.
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As luck/fate/You would have it, Nick is not a Broadway fan. He tolerates most musicals and, at least once a year, somewhat grudgingly accompanies me to a show – but they’re really not his thing. (He says this is because he acted in so many musicals growing up, he got them out of system. I say this is because he’s a poop.)
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Despite Nick’s lack of interest, I knew I was going to do everything possible to try and indoctrinate my girls to the wonderful world of Broadway. The soundtracks to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Annie, and The Sound of Music were in regular rotation when they were little. Instead of watching cat videos, we’d huddle around YouTube and watch clips from the Tonys. (And, okay, also cat videos.)
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When Ella was four, my mom, stepdad, and I took her to her first Broadway musical (The Little Mermaid). I think she liked it, but really, what I remember most is how I forgot that traffic would be an absolute bear after a matinee, meaning it would take three times longer than usual to drive home and perhaps packing a snack or taking a bathroom break before loading up for the gridlock drive would have been a good idea.
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My ears still hurt from the screaming.
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BUT LOOK AT HER OMG
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That was the beginning. At least once a year when we visit my mom, we are fortunate enough to take the girls to a musical on “actual” Broadway. The girls’ first joint show was the same as mine – Peter Pan, seen up close from the orchestra with Peter (her)self flying overhead. I’m not sure they were hooked, but it definitely made an impression. Rochester is also a super theater-appreciative city, with excellent touring productions coming through. The girls usually look forward to going, but until recently, I wouldn’t have said they loved it like their mama.
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Dolled up for Peter Pan, 2011
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Within the last couple of months, though, something seems to have changed. Maybe it’s general Hamilton mania… maybe it’s just that they’re older… but their musicals radar has suddenly tuned in. They notice which shows are playing and at which theater. They talk about how they’d like to see a particular production, but they’d “really like front row balcony seats because they’re the best, right mom?”
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(Sorry, God. I’m working on humility.)
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I had taken them to see Wicked when it was here in 2012. At 6 and 8 years old, they liked it well enough, but they didn’t truly get its complexity and humor. When I learned that the touring production would be returning, I knew we needed to see it again.
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In advance of last weekend’s show, we prepped (as we always do) – reviewing the characters and plot, listening to the soundtrack, researching the actors’ biographies. As the Big Day drew closer, Annie’s anticipation intensified. Out of nowhere, she’d be standing in front of me, fists clenched in jubilation. “Mama! I Can’t believe it’s only two days till Wicked! I AM SO EXCITED!!!.”
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Aladdin, 2014
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At last, Sunday arrived (none too soon for Annie). Worried that the production’s intensity might be too much for her, I offered to sit between her and Ella – but they wanted me on the aisle, with Annie farthest in. From the flying monkeys’ appearance to Elphaba and Fiyero’s departure, I couldn’t pry her eyes from the stage. She was entranced, for good.
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Ella, on the other hand, routinely interacted with me, pointing out costume changes, unexpected staging, and raising her eyebrows with approval whenever someone nailed a difficult part. She also seemed to be looking somewhere other than the stage, although I couldn’t tell where until intermission when she breathlessly asked me what “the man was doing with all those buttons.” After learning that he was the gentleman in charge of the sound/mixing board, she was enthralled. “He’s making that happen?? THAT IS SO COOL.”
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When the final bows had been taken, Ella slipped her hand in mine as we exited the theater. “Mama. That was so good.”
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“It really was, kiddo, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. I mean… it was really good.”
“I think so, too!”
“Can we see it again?” 
“Sure! Next time it comes to Rochester, we’ll get tickets.”
“No… I mean, like, tomorrow…”
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Ohhhhh. I get it now.
My girls have found in Wicked what I found in Les Mis and Phantom. They’ve been bitten by the musicals bug. SWEET FANCY MOSES.
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In the week since the production, “Popular” and “Defying Gravity” and “What Is This Feeling” have been sung nonstop. They’re researching which show they’d like to attend when we visit London next summer. They and some friends are also working on a full-scale backyard production of Hamilton, complete with choreography, props, lighting, and costume changes.
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Yes, they taped the lyrics to the shower. Multitasking at its finest.
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In short, they’ve come to church.
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Thanks, God, for this glorious turn of events. They may never go to sleep-away camp, but if I can share musicals with them, it’s more than a fair trade.
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A Wicked selfie

Ready to Know

Santa is a big deal in our house. Letters are written and given to Hermey, our Elf on the Shelf, for safe passage. Santa’s personality and lifestyle choices are hotly debated (“Where do you think he vacations? Does he brush his teeth?”). Notes for Santa are left at bedsides.

Over the years, I have done nothing to diminish Ella and Annie’s belief in Santa; on the contrary, I’ve encouraged it. Stocking gifts are wrapped just so every Christmas and placed outside the girls’ bedrooms. Hermey has brought back letters from St. Nick bearing the North Pole postal cancellation. If a gift wasn’t able to be procured, Santa has provided a written explanation. He might even get “caught” in our living room Christmas photos every year.
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See, I love Christmas. I also love magic and wonder and hope, all of which continue to bloom and surround the girls every Christmas season. For that, I am thrilled. There is so damned much in the world today that is all too sad, practical, and heavy. Despite how hard we try to protect our kids from losing loved ones, financial difficulties, work-related stress, divorce, etc., we cannot. Beyond our own homes, our 24/7 media make it all but impossible for even children to avoid at least some exposure to natural disasters, refugee crises, racial tensions, gun violence, diseases, deaths of celebrities, politics.

Allowing our girls to put aside the all-too-real world, allowing them to experience awe and joy and delighted anticipation through Santa, allowing them to believe in something magical – to just be kids for a little while longer (while simultaneously celebrating the happiness that is Christmas) – has been one of my most important and fulfilling decisions as a parent. That they have so adored Santa and all he represents to them – love, mischief, kindness, generosity – and that they have felt so loved in return has made that decision even more wonderful.

Because Santa is so special to Ella and Annie, I have gone to great lengths to protect him. Questions were answered with deliberate and measured responses that were never misleading but never laid everything on the table, either.

The girls are normal human children, however, so as they’ve grown older, doubts have understandably crept in. The details that were easily glossed over as kindergarteners (How can Santa possibly reach everyone’s house in one night? If these gifts came form the North Pole, why does it say they were made in China?) were harder to ignore in 3rd or 4th grade. With each passing year, though, even as they posited and became dubious, it became clear that they did not want Santa to be something else; they still wanted him to be real. Despite their curiosity and occasional downright skepticism, they told us – literally and figuratively – that they did not want us to answer the question they’d been throwing at us: “Are you and Daddy really Santa?”

They didn’t really want to know. So we didn’t tell them.

It was complicated too, though, because keeping up the myth of Santa in the age of live streaming and Google searching and school bus taunting is, quite frankly, exhausting. Still, we’d made it through this holiday season with the girls writing letters to Santa and placing them beside Hermey, leaving food for the reindeer on Christmas Eve, and genuinely being thrilled that “he remembered” everything they asked for on Christmas morning. They believed for another year. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought no more of it.

Which was why it caught me by such surprise when – last week, a full 11 days after Christmas – Ella interrupted our otherwise non-Christmas dinner conversation with an extremely direct, “So. Tell me the truth. Are you guys the ones who buy the gifts we ask for from Santa and put them in the living room each year?”

Her well-crafted question left little wiggle room to spin the response in such a way that it didn’t tell her what she didn’t want to know: the truth. Spinning my wheels, I gave her one of my standard Santa deflections. “Hm. How come you’re asking?”

She sat up a little straighter and enunciated clearly, as though maybe she’d practiced beforehand, “Because when I was on your computer today on Amazon, right there under Stuff You’d Bought were the exact gifts I’d asked Santa for. So I’m thinking that, yeah, you guys are the ones who buy the Santa gifts and give them to us.”

Welp.
Shit.
THANKS A LOT, AMAZON.

Apparently, despite maybe not wanting to know the truth, Ella was ready to hear it after all. There was only one (big) problem: Annie, who was sitting three feet away. At two years Ella’s junior, Annie still very much believes – and, despite her curiosity and bravado, it was quickly obvious that Annie really, really, really did not want to hear the answer to Ella’s question.
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Christmas morning breakfast-making

After volleying back and forth for a bit, Ella agreed to table the discussion for a later time. I was relieved – not only for Annie’s sake, but also because it meant I’d have the opportunity to prepare for how I’d planned, for years, to break the Santa News… via a letter I’d seen on the internet.

The gist was this: explain that we are not, in fact, Santa – but we act as Santa and fill her stocking, buy her “Santa” gifts, etc; let her know that we think believing in Santa and acting as Santa are tremendously important and are about sharing love, kindness, wonder, and hope; and that, now that she was “in” on it, we would like her to preserve the magic of Santa for those who still believe (see: Annie).

I was not at all sure how this would go over. I’ve heard stories of kids who were furious with their parents for, as they saw it, lying to them. I’ve heard of others who were so upset and heartbroken, they fell apart. Nick and I crossed our fingers that Ella would see it as we did: that believing in Santa felt so amazing and brought her such happiness, and “real life” is so pressing and heavy, we wanted to preserve this bit of childhood for as long as we could.

At bedtime, we checked to see if Ella wanted to hear a more detailed answer to her earlier question. She hesitated for a moment, but ultimately decided that yes, she did.

She was finally, truly ready.

Rather than read the letter herself, Ella asked me to do it. When my voice hitched at the part about how we hoped she would continue these traditions for her own children someday, I discovered the other reason I’ve gone to such lengths to keep Santa all these years: because I loved it so much.

I loved how earnestly the girls debated which reindeer was Santa’s favorite. I loved how carefully they looked over the cookies each Christmas Eve, selecting the ones that were just right. I loved the twinkle in their eyes as they flew down the stairs on Christmas morning, eager to see if he’d actually come. Simply, I adored the deep-seated joy that Santa brought them; playing a part in cultivating that joy was one of my favorite parts of Christmas, of being a parent.

After I’d finished reading and we asked if she had any questions, the first words out of Ella’s mouth were directed at Nick: “Wait. So you drink the whiskey every year?? Is THAT why we leave whiskey for Santa?”

(Nick told her this was one of his more brilliant parenting decisions. Why we didn’t decide 13 Christmases ago that Santa needed chocolate and a Starbucks for the journey home is a solid failure on my part.)
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Cookies… milk… and whiskey

Ella had a few other queries, most of which we answered. I did, however, flat-out refuse to explain how Santa’s image appears in our photos each year or how I create Hermey’s handwriting; some things are meant to be kept secret.

To our delight and relief, after some time to process and assimilate, Ella seemed to feel exactly the way we did about Santa. Although I’m sure she was disappointed that a plump, omniscient, bearded elf does not, in fact, deliver her presents each year, she took in our explanation and made it her own.

As we were finishing the conversation, I told her that, despite this new information, I planned to continue all of our traditions every year – from putting stockings the hallway to moving Hermey to scattering reindeer food. Before I could complete my sentence, Ella chimed in with, “Well, of course! It wouldn’t be Christmas without those!”

She also informed me that she will still be leaving a letter with Hermey to deliver to Santa… because that’s just what we do, and that’s the truth.
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‘Hamilton’ style: Hermey will be back…

Nini is Nine

Our Annie is nine.
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Her sister came down in the morning and made her this fabulous sign. Yay for sisters!

How this came to be, I am not quite certain… I really could have sworn that she and I were just playing games every morning before afternoon kindergarten, that she was just learning to ride a bike, that she was just dancing around like a lunatic before bed.

Scratch that last one. She still dances around like a lunatic.

But now she is nine and dancing around – nearly double digits, that in-between age before Big Kid but not quite Little Kid, either. Not that Annie has ever fit neatly into any single category… She sings Tom Petty and Elton John songs in the shower but recites schoolyard rhymes as she wanders the house. She adores Harry Potter and Junie B. Jones in equal measure. She will help make dinner and fold her own laundry but still carries her silkies everywhere.

As I’ve chronicled before, for the past many years, we have celebrated the girls’ birthdays in the summer (because I’m bad with The Math and somehow wound up with not one but two December babies, which makes for a freakin’ insane busy month). I’d always said that the summer celebrations undoubtedly lessened the stress of December, but it was really a theory; I hadn’t put it to the test.

This year, the girls elected not to celebrate early – they just weren’t feeling it. Ella did have a small (but awesome; more on that sometime soon, I swear) party, but Annie has decided that, as of now, she is content without a big celebration. Although a (not-so-small) part of me is grateful for this (because my theory? The theory that two birthday celebrations AND Christmas within a two week span would be freakin’ insane busy? ABSOLUTELY CORRECT), the other part is a little bit crushed.

How is it possible that she is perfectly happy just enjoying being sung to at school and then having a birthday day at home? When did she become so old?

Because of the lack of festivities, we offered to do anything that Annie wanted on her birthday: go to a museum, go bowling, go to an indoor trampoline park, take a hike (this “winter” weather has been SO VERY WARM and SO VERY WEIRD), see a movie, eat out, invite a friend to play, host a board or card game marathon (our Nini [pronounced knee-knee; my cousin’s son couldn’t say “Annie” and thus called her “Nini” and we’ve stuck with it because HOW CUTE IS THAT] loves games)… ANYTHING SHE WANTED…

Turns out, what Annie wanted was to stay home all day, open her presents, play with them, eat three home-cooked meals, design some Christmas wrapping paper, read some books, and chill.

Okay, then.
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As I set out the night before the big day to wrap her gifts, I was stricken to discover that I really didn’t have any birthday-appropriate paper. (See again: we usually celebrate in the summer so I was unprepared.) What I did have, however, was a roll of the frog-covered wallpaper that hung in my grandma’s bathroom. (It was super easy to find, too, because of how wondrously organized everything still is – a miracle, really. Holla!)
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Lemme ‘splain. Several years back, one of us had received a gift from Phoofsy… wrapped in what appeared to be the wallpaper from her bathroom. When we commented on the remarkable similarity, she informed us that it was, indeed, the very same — she had some leftover from when the room had been decorated and it was perfectly good paper so why not put it to use?

Thus, it all came full circle. As I’d written a couple of years back, when I discovered I was pregnant with Annie, I wasn’t exactly thrilled – especially not to be having another December baby. Still, we believe that everything happens for a reason, so surely her being due in December was no coincidence…

By the fall, the reason had become crystal clear.
Having Annie caused us to have to move – and, obviously, we moved to Rochester, where my grandparents lived.

To quote from my aforementioned post:

“If we hadn’t moved when we did, we wouldn’t have had that summer with my grandfather. We wouldn’t have been here when he died… We wouldn’t have been here with my grandmother after his death, dragging her gamely along to the children’s museum and the apple orchard, and accompanying her to mother/daughter celebrations at her social club. If we hadn’t moved when we did, she certainly wouldn’t have had Annie and Ella nearby to cheer her up, to make her smile, to give her hope.

It was all so ridiculously clear: If Annie had not been born when she was, we never would have moved when we did, and life as we know it would not exist.

… I don’t know what it was, but from the moment they laid eyes on each other, Annie and Phoofsy were smitten. Phoofsy had always loved Ella – there was no worry of that – but there was something special about her relationship with Annie. They lit up when they saw one another; where everyone else would be captivated by Ella’s stories and songs and dramatic reenactments, Phoofsy would go up to Annie and coo at her, instead. Annie’s biggest fan, we called her. It was pretty damn neat.”

We had (nearly) eight amazing years in Rochester with Phoofsy – none of which would have happened as they did if Annie hadn’t come into our lives exactly when she did. She and my grandma would not have had each other; and oh, how they were crazy about each other! Perfect timing, indeed.
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Phoofsy and Annie sharing iPad stories during a layover from our trip to Charleston last year.

So it seemed particularly wonderful that I could wrap some of Annie’s birthday presents in Phoofsy’s ridiculous wallpaper – bringing her into our little celebration.

Despite the lack of hoopla, I couldn’t resist attempting to make Annie more than just a cake from a mix (it was still from a mix, don’t you worry; I just tried to jazz it up a little and turn it into a stack of books). It wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned, but Nini seemed to love it – and that’s what matters (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).
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I’m still not used to the fact that she is no longer eight; I misspoke the other day and gave someone her incorrect age, much to her chagrin. I am, however, more smitten with her every single damned day. She is a pistol for sure, but she is also joy and wonder and pure awesome personified.
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Happiest ninth* birthday, our Annabelle Grace. You complete us and we adore you – even when you dance like a lunatic.

(* no joke – when I wrote this, I originally typed “eighth birthday.” MAYBE BY THE TIME SHE IS TEN I WILL GET THIS RIGHT.)

One Day

It’s officially day two of summer vacation and I’ve already taken a break from the kids.

This was a scheduled trip, though, not a desperate attempt to flee – a trip out west with friends to visit another friend who we just need to see. It’s been far too long; I’m so looking forward to being with them, to sharing hugs in person, to laughing and crying and just being together.
And also the eating. I love me some eating.

With just one day between school getting out and my leaving, I wanted to make the most of it with Ella and Annie. I wanted summer to start off right, not with me running around like a maniac or everyone scattered in different directions or me losing my temper only three hours in and yelling at them for disagreeing over Legos (not that that’s ever happened, but I’ve heard it’s a possibility).

So, by gosh, we made the most of it.

The first thing the girls wanted to do was a craft off of this year’s Summer Fun List – using bleeding tissue paper to dye a canvas and then adhering additional tissue paper to the colorful canvases with Mod Podge.
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This was totally not my idea; Annie completed the very same project at a friend’s party a few weeks ago and her family was kind enough to share the instructions – and tissue paper – with us.
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Photo by Ella of her final creation.
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Photo by Annie of her final masterpiece.

While the canvases dried, we got to do the rarest of things: shop for something silly with no timeframe or schedule, just for the hell of it, because we wanted to. To be more precise, we searched high and low for specific names on Coke bottles as part of the Share a Coke With marketing scam genius promotion that has drawn in suckers sentimental consumers like me. We’ve been on the lookout for certain names for weeks, but we’re always frantically rummaging through bins and coolers while grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions at Target, so there’s never any time to just browse in a leisurely fashion. Annie and Ella were in heaven.
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This may look like chaos, but we have got a system, you guys.

We might have pushed it a little by going to eight different establishments in search of our elusive bottles, but it was a lovely, frivolous diversion — a delightful way to pass part of a summer afternoon. And we found three more names we were looking for; holla!
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Fenwick was remarkably patient, but by the fourth or fifth store, he was starting to get more than a little tired of hopping in and out of the car.

After a brief swim next door, the girls asked if they could borrow my good camera to take photos of their projects (see their first attempts, above). While I prepped dinner, they then decided – for the first time ever – to try to take “real” photos of one another posing with their canvases on the lawn, in the tree in our front yard, on the back of Nick’s scooter… and, inexplicably, Ella’s bike (artistic vision. Respect).11403411_10153334445540295_4803402200932975868_n

The results were simultaneously awesome, cringeworthy, and hilarious; once I return and have their full permission, I can’t wait to share them.
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I love the intensity of their examination.

Following dinner, we participated in the most classic of all summer rituals: the procuring of ice cream.
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And the making of butter in a jar.
What? That’s not one of your summer rituals? Lame!
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In all seriousness, butter in a jar is both easy and fabulous. 
YOU’RE WELCOME.

I didn’t take pictures of me running or weeding the garden, the girls’ Lego and cardboard creations, the fort that they set up in the playroom, or the dog peeing on the rug… but it all happened, my friends. It was a jam-packed, relaxing day (yep, totally possible to be both) and just the way I’d hoped our summer would begin.

As I’ve talked about several times before, summer is hard for me. The lack of routine, the absence of structure, how nothing gets accomplished, my inability to relax; it’s just complicated. I guess milestones are complicated for me, period, even small ones like the end of school. Every year, I find myself wrestling with such intense and conflicting emotions, I feel like I’m being consulted for Inside Out (which is fabulous, BTW; do see it).

I’m elated that the girls loved their teachers and are sad to leave them and I’m bummed for them that they feel so heart-worn. I’m rejoicing not having to pack lunches for ten weeks and lamenting that now I’ll have to drag the girls with me when I buy groceries. I’m thrilled that the kids are older and we’re able to enjoy so much more together and I’m shocked and dismayed, as always, that the years are flying by so freakin’ fast. I’m delighted at the thought of all the fun we’ll have between now and Labor Day and I’m anxious because I’m already afraid that we won’t get to everything and I’ll be disappointed.

Thankfully, by now, I know what to expect. I know that summer will not be this perfectly idyllic experience, nor will it be a total disaster. It will be somewhere in between – dirty and messy and yummy and tear-filled and joyful and laid-back and exhausting and crazy and good – which, when you think about it, is just as it should be.

At least I can confidently say that Ella and Annie and I got one day of summer wonderfully, deliciously right.

Save for the mosquitoes. They’re like hummingbirds this year, y’all. Evil, buzzing, bloodthirsty hummingbirds.

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Tucking into bed last night. 
These girls, y’all. These girls.IMG_1099

Pretty Little Liars

Dear Ella and Annie,

You really put on a good show today. If I judged your relationship solely on the performance you put on as you walked in the door from school, hissing at one another that “You started it!” “No, YOU started it!” “You shouldn’t have said anything!” “You shouldn’t have hit me!”, I might have assumed that you cannot stand one another, that you are enemies. Come to think of it, when anyone asks you if you think of your sister as your friend, your immediate response is to wrinkle your noses in disgust, raise your eyebrows as if to question their sanity, and quickly respond with a “No way!” or “She’s awful!” or “Well. sometimes…” or, if they catch you on a particularly good day, “I guess so.”

I’ve got to give you an A for effort; you certainly do try to verbally convince everyone that you don’t think the other is worth the ground she stands on. As a parent and an educator, I realize that it’s important to listen to what kids say and all that, but… well… how do I phrase this?

You’re full of crap.

I know, you hate that word – and rightly so – but in this case, it’s true. You’re absolutely full of beans. Liars, really.

Don’t believe me? That’s okay. I’ve got proof.

Sure, you refuse to share the bathroom sink because merely standing beside one another while brushing your teeth results in such pushing and hip-checking, the NHL might consider allowing women to join their ranks. But then, when you’re getting ready separately, one of you will take extra time – and time away from bedtime reading, a treasured evening activity – to dutifully prepare the other’s toothbrush, face toner, and water, complete with labeled note.

note for ella from annie
The water isn’t filthy – it was just a wee bit bubbly after being freshly filled.

When you’re left to your own devices, you’re all buddy-buddy (when you’re not threatening to strangle one another). You create together, you seek each other out to make new games, you giggle and spirit yourselves away, just the two of you, refusing to let me – or anyone – into your private sister-world. When we went on the Disney Cruise, you spent ages in the kids’ club using one of their computer typing programs, sometimes apart and sometimes together – like this.

sisterlove
It’s long, but if you’re actually curious, it’s larger if you click on it…

You started out like gangbusters, clearly working together and sharing happily. But then you must have realized what you were doing – admitting that we like one another? The horror! – and took steps to clarify.

sisterlove1


“(Ella) I think she is really annoying sometimes but it’s one of those things that if something happened to her, I would be very very sad.
(Annie) I think Ella is an annoying stink bomb but also the same thing she said about if something happened or whatever.”

How very diplomatic and charming of you.

I couldn’t help noticing, however, that despite your acknowledgments that you each think the other is a pain in the ass but you’d be bummed if she, like, got maimed or whatever, you still deliberately mentioned your relationship in your sign-off.

sisterlove1a
If “By: Ella and Annie” didn’t suffice, you could have added another disclaimer. “By Ella and Annie, two kickass rockstars.” “By Ella and Annie, two wicked smart gals.” “By Ella and Annie, the world’s most awesome daughters.” But no! You chose to highlight your sisterhood. Curious, no?

Publicly, you sneer at each other when there are struggles, mocking your sister’s difficulties or pooh-poohing her accomplishments. And yet, when one of you reaches a personal goal three nights in a row, you are the first to offer up homemade signs of congratulations, immediately and genuinely with nary a condescending word.

turkey
I was unfamiliar with a “turkey” meaning three in a row, but your father swears it’s true.

Similarly, you will swear up and down that the other’s passions and interests are bogus; that you don’t give two hoots about the things she likes, that she goes on and on about the same old nonsense, that you couldn’t care less if she succeeds or fails at her most hard-fought endeavors. How, then, do you explain the signs of encouragement that you draw up, cheering on her current attempts by reminding her of the other things in her life that mean the most to her? WHAT SAY YE, LITTLE FIBBERS?

cheering on
Those are glasses and lightning bolts surrounding Harry’s name, obviously. To the left… a quidditch broom, maybe? Artistic license, yo.

One moment, you’re offering your sister an olive branch – let’s play! You worked so hard on that drawing! That dress looks awesome on you! You’ve really improved on that piano piece! Want to make a fort in the backyard? You’re sweet and adoring and kind.

sisterlove2

The next, you’re spewing vitriol, talking about how your sister is THE WORST, how you can’t even be in the car next to her, how all you want is TIME ALONE for God’s sake, how you’ve NEVER liked each other. Your barbs are sharp and quick and aimed to hit right where it counts, even when you’re just being silly.

And yet… right beneath it all (in this case, literally)… is the unmistakable love.

sisterlove3
At least you’re using your manners. 

‘Cause here’s the thing: deep down, deepest down, you are crazy about one another. You think your sister hung the moon. You think about her when she’s not around, bringing her the extra goody bag from the birthday party, saving her the last piece of cake instead of eating it yourself simply because you knew she’d like it. You know one another so well, better than I know you, that you practically breathe together. You are, unquestionably, each other’s best friend.

You’ll deny this with every fiber of your beings, stiffening your bodies and huffing – actually huffing, pushing air out your nose in indignation – that I am wrong, wrong, wrong. But then, like last week, Ella will volunteer to be the first (secret) Mystery Reader for Annie’s class. Her teacher might be contacted to ask permission for Ella to miss class in order to read to her sister’s class, and such permission might be granted. There might then be some hemming and hawing, with Ella perhaps insisting that she didn’t really want to volunteer at all (“People change their minds, you know!”), and some choice words being said (by me, *ahem*) about commitments and following through and not going back on one’s word – but all the while, I will know the truth: that, in her deepest down, Ella so very much wants to surprise Annie as the Mystery Reader, but she is terrified of reading aloud in front of all those kiddos, and so she is faced with an awful choice: her sister or herself.

In the end, she will choose her sister (agreeing at the very last minute, of course), and will walk down the hallway on wobbly legs, the book held in shaking hands. She will take deep breaths and steady herself before entering the classroom on Annie’s teacher’s count, awaiting her sister’s response when she realizes who the surprise reader is…

… and, upon recognizing her, Annie will respond from her deepest down with joy that radiates from below and up through her absolutely delighted face, smiling so broadly she can barely contain herself.

sisterlove5
I’d videoed the grand reveal but, because I was several paces behind, had missed recording all of Annie’s reaction (plus also she was hidden by the desk partition), but I did manage to take a screen shot (during those first moments of recognition) and enlarge it. 
It may be blurry, but that smile doesn’t lie.

And then, as Ella takes the seat that has been placed at the front of the room and prepares to read to the class, Annie will come and sit beside her and… will realize that she has been displaying an unacceptable show of affection – for her sister, of all people – and will adjust her visage accordingly.

IMG_8615-1
Oh. It’s you – how special. Not.

That’s your story and you’re sticking to it; anyone who asks you will get the same answer. And really, so long as you’re not rude about it, that’s okay with me because I know the truth. Hell, the whole world knows the truth because the two of you are lousy liars. Although I don’t think it’s always the case, in this instance, your actions drown out your words a million times over.

In the meantime, feel free to keep on insisting differently, and I’ll keep on saving these moments to show you later. (I’d love to pretend otherwise, but when that day comes I will totally say, “I told you so!” because I am nothing if not mature.)

With that said, if you could please save your arguments until at least a few minutes after you come home from school, that would be fantastic; I go from really excited to see you to awfully damn grumpy when you slam the door shut behind you and continue the sparring you’d apparently started on the four-minute walk home.

I do appreciate the work you put into attempting to convince me of your dislike for one another, though. At this rate, you could have stunning careers as actresses, and I’ll be second in line for tickets. After your sister, of course.

xoxo
Mom

IMG_8618

 

The sounds of summer

This past week was our first entire “free” week of the summer – no camps, no visiting family, no visits from family. It marked the first opportunity for girls (and me) to be as lazy as they wanted to in the mornings, play to their hearts’ content, pull out long-forgotten toys and games that they’d been hoping to get to, and just relax and be. Before summer began and I saw that we’d have a whole week with absolutely no plans, my initial thought had been to fill the empty space. In the end, other thoughts prevailed. One day we went to a local amusement/water park, so that was kind of “scheduled.” But otherwise? Whatever struck the girls’ fancy.

seabreeze

Which meant that our week sounded a lot like this:

If you’d just strip your sheets for me, I’ll make the rest of the bed.
“Why do you have to make us work so hard?”

—————————————–

“There are no towels here!”
You’re in luck – I brought some down and you may use them.
“I GET THE STRIPED ONE!”
“No, *I* get the striped one!”
“You can have the polka dot one!”
“No, YOU can have the polka dot one.”
“I said it first!”
“But I SAW it first.”
IF EITHER OF YOU ARGUES ANY FURTHER ABOUT A TOWEL THAT YOU DID NOT EVEN BRING DOWN HERE, YOU WILL FORFEIT DRYING PRIVILEGES FOR THE REST OF THE AFTERNOON.

—————————————–

Since you can’t listen to music right now, why don’t you come up with a song to sing?
“Okay! I like this one: We will BURN DOWN the enemy! We will burrrrn dowwwwn the enemy! WE WILL BURN DOWN THE ENEMY!!”
What does that even mean?
“I don’t know. I only sing it to annoy you.”

—————————————–

I’d be happy to get you a snack. In addition to fruit, what else would you like?
“Doritos.”
*blank stare*
“Come on! Just a few Doritos??”
*blank stare*
“I’ll take pretzel Goldfish, please.”
That’s fine.

I decided to surprise you! You both have pretzel Goldfish and a few Doritos, too!
“But I didn’t say I wanted Doritos.”
*death glare*
“OKAY, okay… I’ll eat them… It’s fine, really… It’s fine… You don’t have to look at me like that…”

—————————————–

cad

On your way up, please put the yellow floatie back in the shed. Since you both used it, you can both put it back.
*begins dragging floatie down the dock* “I’ve got it this far! You can bring it the rest of the way!”
“But *I* wanted to bring it to the end of the dock!”
“But *I* grabbed it first!”
“But I WANTED it first. You’re the WORST sister EVER.”
“No, YOU’RE the WORST sister EVER.”

—————————————–

“I’m still a little bit hungry.”
You can have more cherries, then.
“Never mind. I’m not hungry anymore.”

—————————————–

It’s time to eat lunch! Please come to the kitchen!
“We’re busy! We’ll be there later!”

You left a big mess in the dining room! Come pick it up!
*crickets*

Which outfit do you think you should wear on our trip?
“Sorry, mom – gotta go. No time now.”
I feel like Harry Chapin. Since when did this become “Cat’s In The Cradle”? 

(**At long last, I pull up a stool and, for the first time all day, take a few minutes to answer emails or write a blog post while the girls are playing happily and do not need my assistance in any way, shape, or form…**)
“Mom? Can you help me with this?”
“Mom? I need to ask you a question.”
“Mommy? I think I hurt myself.”
“Mama? Mommy? Mom??”
WELL, LOOK AT THAT. HERE YOU ARE. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS.

—————————————–

“Can I melt all of your chocolate on the stove and then freeze it just to see what would happen?”
The Godiva chocolate?
“Yes.”
I’d rather you not.
“You never let me do ANYTHING.”

—————————————–

“There’s nothing to do.”
You have an entire summer fun list you could check out.
“I don’t wanna do any of those.”
You could play outside.
“It’s too hot.”
You could read a book.
“I’m tired of reading.”
You could stop standing here and pestering me.
“Everything here is so BORING!”

—————————————–

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. In addition to the above, there have also been lovely moments, like when they created this incredibly detailed Harry Potter experience that utilized the entire upstairs of the house, or when we dropped the car off for new tires and then walked into town for breakfast at a wonderful dairy farm, or the terrific evening we spent picking beans and tomatoes at our farm share, or the marvelous new Pinot I discovered from one of our local wineries… Yes, there have been happy, giddy, quiet-Mommy-has-wine sounds, too.

But this week has been long, people. Turns out my kids actually do crave structure. I can’t imagine where they get that.

I do believe we’ve officially reached that point of the summer when thinking about the start of school elicits cheers instead of groans. Don’t worry – we’ve got plenty more to do and enjoy, and I plan to make the very most out of our remaining 3.5 weeks of summer.

But September is looking awfully damn inviting over that horizon.
That is, if everyone makes it out of August in one piece.

Ahhhhhh, summer!

soccer!
Taken at our first-ever professional soccer game; it’s one of my all-time favorite pictures, because it so perfectly sums up both girls’ personalities.

Some questions are best left unanswered

A couple of days ago, one of the girls had a friend over. (I won’t name names so as to offer said daughter some kind of anonymity, but there are only so many guesses to be had here, people.) They played in the playroom for quite a while, with what I wasn’t sure – Barbies? Dress up? Legos? – making very little noise or fuss, perfectly content. I didn’t even stop to check on them because they seemed to be having such a good, quiet time… Why mess with a good thing?

That evening, I had a load of laundry to do – which takes me right through the downstairs and into the basement – and, as I navigated the toy explosion/obstacle course that is our playroom, I glanced briefly over to notice that there were a bunch of dolls set up in some kind of purposeful formation. It dawned on me that this was what our daughter and our neighbor must have been doing while they played, but I didn’t really think anything of it.

IMG_7223
Camper? Check. Corvette? Check. Beach cruiser? Check
Semi-circle of perfectly, creepily posed dolls? WEIRD. Check.

A little while later, Nick, too, ventured down into the basement (we do laundry separately here; I highly recommend it) and asked me if I’d gotten a look at the “set-up” in the playroom.

Oh, yeah. You mean they’ve been doing the Jonestown thing again?
(It is not at all uncommon for the girls to set up dolls in freakish-looking ritualistic poses all in a row on the floor.)

“No. It’s more like a peep show Cirque du Soleil.”

What are you talking about? They’re just dolls in formation on the floor!

“Uh, I think you need to take a much closer look.”

And so I did, fully expecting to see that Nick had over-exaggerated… and discovered that what I’d thought was a cutesy – if bizarre – doll collection was actually…

Um. Wow.
IMG_7204You’ll definitely want to click on this to make it larger.
That is, if your filter at work will allow you to do so.

WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE???

As I wrote on Facebook:
(parenthetical observations were added by me after the fact)

I don’t even know where to start with this…
The semicircle of onlookers…?
(Because, seriously, why is everyone watching?)
Bringing the children…??
(This event is family-friendly?)
Only two males in attendance…?
(Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
Downward facing dog (doll?) OVER the other doll’s face…?
(There are names for these kind of moves; or, um, so I’ve heard…)
The starfish Aurora in the middle…?
(Sleeping Beauty 
is FLEXIBLE, y’all.)
The doll on the purple door on the piano bench…?
(Some kind of pre-show seance?)
I just… Um… I didn’t realize that’s how it was in our family.
.
Since the girls were already in bed, it didn’t make sense to awaken them to find out what the hell was actually going on in the playroom, but I made a mental note to ask them about it later. Mental notes are the reason I have a to-do book, however, so naturally, I forgot all about it.
.
Last night, Nick and I split up reading with the girls before bed. As he headed upstairs to change out of his work clothes, he called over his shoulder (to our offspring, not me), “Come on into the bedroom! You can read to me while I take off my clothes!”
.
I chuckled at his choice of words and called back, “So that IS how it is in our family!”
Which prompted me to remember the burlesque show in the playroom. I immediately began my interrogation.
.
Sweetie, you know those dolls in the playroom?
.
“Yes, Mommy. I’ll clean them up tomorrow!”
.
No, it’s not that. It’s just… What’s up with the set-up?
.
“Oh, THAT.”
.
Yes. THAT.
.
“Well, the lady was becoming president. Or maybe the principal. It was a big party.”
(OMG, presidential inaugurations make so much more sense now)
(Also: DOLL BURLESQUE MYSTERY SOLVED)
.
Which lady?
.
“The one in the black and red fancy dress.”
IMG_7222
Resembling a scene from Disney’s “The Princess and the Strip Club”, a movie which – apparently – was scrapped before it hit the theaters. Which is a shame, because New Orleans definitely has a brothel-y side.
From this angle, the “performers” are so… symmetrical…
.
That’s Tiana, but it’s not her dress.
.
Um, okay, sharing is good. But what were… the rest of the people… doing around her?
.
“That was a dance. It was part of the party.”
.
Fair enough. But how come they weren’t really clothed?
.
“Well, they had their underwear on.”
.
Semantics, but that still doesn’t really explain why they weren’t dressed.
.
“They’re going to be wearing clothes later. Really fancy ones. Like, all matching and stuff. Skirts and things.”
.
Just skirts?
.
“We’ll see what’s available. This was just the dress rehearsal.”
.
That’s a misleading choice of words.
.
“They were practicing. They’ll get dressed up later.”
.
Why was everyone watching?
.
“Because it was a show!”
.
Of course. They were watching the mostly naked performers doing their dress rehearsal for the president-principal lady?
.
“YES, Mom.”
(duh)
.
And they even brought their kids?
.
“Yes. It was a show for families.”
.
Maybe in Vegas.
.
“What?”
.
That Aurora sure is… flexible. She was like a starfish.
.
“I know! She’s the fanciest performer!”
.
That’s one way to put it.
.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got it all planned out. Their final performance is going to be great.”
.
Does this little number have a name?
.
“Yes. It’s called the Naked Ballet.”
(pronounced it like ballette, rhyming with palate, not ball-ay, rhyming with… ballet)
.
Ballette?
.
“Yes. That’s the French word for ballet.”
.
Tres nice.
.
Naked Ballette.
.
I heard you the first time. But thank you for sharing.
—————-
So. To sum up, our child – and a friend – created pretty much exactly what Nick had described: a peep show Cirque du Soleil. In our playroom. With Barbies.
.
Awesome.
.
Our girls love playdates! Do be sure to send your daughter over any time.
.
On the bright side: their president/principal was a black female. We may be raising risqué nudists, but at least they preach equality. Holla!