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Break Time

Have been taking a little break from the blog, but will be back soon!

Back to School, Again

It’s back-to-school time once again. There’s an oddly appropriate redundancy in that phrase — we’re not just going back, we’re going back again. Been there, done that to death. Nothing new to say — hasn’t it all been said? Doesn’t it get said every year?

Time to stock up on school supplies! Time to schedule carpools and classes! Time to shop for shoes and clothes! Maybe you’re buying shorts that the kids will wear for a few weeks in September, where it’s suddenly hotter than it was all summer, because the ones you got in May now don’t fit.

Time to set that alarm again! Time to get back into rush-hour traffic! Time to utter “Ugh, re-entry!”

Time for some people to say, “I loved summer, but by the end was counting the days til school started,” or, “I’m SO ready for back to school,” or, “It was the longest summer ever!”

Time for others to say, “Summer could never last long enough,” or, “I’m NEVER ready for back to school,” or, “It was the shortest summer ever!”

Goodbye to all that summer...

Goodbye to all that summer…

For some parents with full-time jobs and little or no vacation, maybe their kids were in camp or other programs all summer, and this “back to school” isn’t really back at all. It’s where they’ve been all along.

For others, maybe the “lazy days of summer” were a bit too lazy, and the schedule that “back to school” brings is a greeted with relief. Alternatively, maybe summer was more exhausting than the school year. Maybe you crammed every family member and the dog in the car and road-tripped your way up, down, around, and through summer.

And yet for others, maybe starting the school year again is literally like a rocket re-entering the atmosphere, the family shedding parts of an idyllic summer as it crashes back down to earth.

Yes, we’re all getting back in the swing, back to the grind. Back in the car, the kitchen, the office. Back on the sidelines, the bleachers, the ball fields. Back to reality.

But … Are we really back?

Is any season ever the same as it was in years past? Is any day, hour, minute? We’re all facing something new, no matter how “back” in it we are. My three children are, for the moment, all in the same school — the parental equivalent of a triple sow-cow, double toe-loop. So my landing “back” should be pretty well-cushioned. Not too many re-inventions this year.

Yet I find myself looking forward to the coming school year mostly when I ponder what’s new about it, what’s changing, and what’s maybe even surprising — the unknowns in store.

This may be triggered by something as simple as a new sport or teacher, a new volunteer or work project. But it’s something that shakes up the routine, that energizes the field. Because otherwise, when I think about going “back” this time of year, I feel a bit complacent, a tad bored, a little stale.

No, I much prefer to think about going “onward” to school, moving “into” the fall, heading “toward”… good things to come.

Getting the Scoop

We see the signs everywhere around our city, exhorting us to “Scoop Your Pet’s Poop” or “Please Clean Up After Your Pet”. Unlike the little violations many of us commit every day — crossing your neighborhood street in the middle of the block, buckling your seatbelt after rolling out of the driveway, throwing recyclables in the trash — not scooping your dog’s poop (is there any other kind of pet poop to scoop?) can bring an “eewww” kind of bad karma. Do YOU want to be the one to step in the poop? you wonder nervously as you dutifully pick up the little bombs from the sidewalk.

Oh, we’ve all had those moments when we hesitate halfway down the block, leash in hand and pooch happily trotting by our side, as we remember we forgot the plastic bag. Well, we think with relief, the creature just relieved herself in the back yard a while ago. I’ll risk it.

And, inevitably, just as you round the corner for home, your pup stops and assumes the position. Panicking, you look around to see who’s watching. At least I can move it into the bushes so no one steps on it, you think, keeping a little bit of bad karma at bay. So you grab a nearby stick and flick the jewels over and out of plain site.

But I’ll wager you’ve never had the kind of karma kickback I had the other day.

The husband and kids were walking to get ice cream, and I decided to take our terrible but cute terrier, Cookie, along for her daily constitutional. I grabbed the leash with a plastic bag already tied to it and called Cookie. As we made our way down the sidewalk, about halfway to our destination, she stopped and dropped while the others went on ahead. No problem. I reached to untie the bag from the leash, but accidentally let it go as Cookie raced toward the kids, me calling out to them to catch her. OK, I thought, turning back to study the product. This is to the side a bit and not in the middle of the walk, so I’ll just scoop it when we walk back by.

A little while later, ice cream in hand, we all headed back up the street. As we reached the drop spot, I glanced around. Ah, there it is, over to the side. This time I handed the leash to my daughter first and then untied the bag. Leaning over to do my duty (ha), I neatly knotted the bag and took back the leash. We had walked a few steps when suddenly I felt something under my shoe and stopped in my tracks.

“Ewww, I can’t believe this! Someone didn’t scoop their poop!”

Everyone looked down as I lifted my shoe in disbelief. Shit, I thought (appropriately). This happens to me now? Even after I scooped my own dog’s poop, like the model citizen that I am??

Staring further at the ground, I noticed another canine mine just inches away. It looked somehow… familiar. I glanced at my poop bag, suddenly lighter, and it took only a few seconds for me (and now everyone else in the family) to see that it was empty. There was a hole in it and the poop had quickly fallen out, somehow just enough in front of me that I had, yes, stepped in it.

Scraping my shoe while my three kids and husband chuckled over my mishap, I couldn’t help but analyze what had happened. What were the odds? How did I manage to fling the poop at the exact spot where I would step milliseconds later? Maybe I possess some sort of hidden talent? Is there a prize for that?

Clearly there were no neat and tidy answers to these knotty questions. I just hoped it was the end of my karmic payback… or should I say, poopback.

“Little Bombs” by Aimee Mann

 

 

 

Blog-hopping

Today’s post is something a little different. I’m participating in a “blog hop,” an effort by some of us bloggers to introduce readers and each other to other interesting blogs. It includes answering four questions to give an idea of why we write and how our blogging process works.

One of my fellow blog hoppers is Denise Powers, an American in Paris who, when she moved there, created her blog “I Would Read That.” Denise and I were in a writing group a few years ago, and I’ve loved keeping up with her through her very funny, sharply written posts about life in France with her French poodle, Ferdinand. Here are a few bon mots:

“Apparently standard poodles are virtually unknown in France, except by reputation, much as one might know of a hippo or a giraffe, but never expect to meet one on the street.”

One of the things I love about Denise’s blog is living vicariously through her. Many of us dream of one day picking up and moving to another country, and she actually did it.

Also check out “Literary Mileage,” a blog from another wonderful writer, Judy Leaver. She splits her time between Washington, DC, and South Florida, balancing supporting herself through writing while living a fun and art-filled life. For instance, currently Judy is living in Mexico for a month, studying Spanish.

OK, so here are my brief answers to the four questions:

1. What am I working on (think about that metaphorically)?

The short answer is that I’m usually working on a) being a better person — because it’s often so hard; and b) finding the humor in being human.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure it really does. I write about what I’m thinking about, what I’m observing. So it differs from other first-person writing in that it’s coming from me. It’s my voice, for better or worse.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write for sanity, for clarity, for my own enjoyment and hopefully for others’ too. In writing something specific, hopefully I can touch upon something universal. Writing can be frustrating and confounding and the hardest pursuit imagineable when you’re trying to figure out what you want to say. But when you’ve written what is true and in the way you want to, it’s extremely satisfying.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m a deadline-oriented person (I used to work in newspapers, the perfect job for procrastinators), so this blog is supposed to act as my external deadline, my place to publish. I have set up a system to try to meet my (internal) blogging goal of once every two weeks by having to “turn in” a piece to “an editor.”

This seems to be working pretty well for me, with the exception of these past two months. I look forward to summer and hopefully more writing since I was inspired to begin this blog last summer.

Bonus question: Is there a better word than “summer”?

Definitely not.

Blog-hopping and dreaming of the beach

Blog-hopping and dreaming of the beach

Hands Full, In Hindsight

I wrote this eight years ago when in the throes of toddler-dom. In re-reading it now, I’m reminded of how, to paraphrase Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, the minutes pass by slowly, but the years quickly. These moments may not always be “enjoyable” exactly, but they’re what make up the years of our lives — and ultimately, the memories we cherish.

“You’ve got your hands full,” I often hear people say after I tell them the ages of my three children — twins girls, 3 ½,  and a son, 5 ½. I usually dismiss the cliched phrase with thoughts of “You think I’m busy…”

I may have three small children, but I’m a wimp compared to those super-moms who manage to keep track of their three or four kids’ various after-school activities, sit with them during homework, schedule playdates, go on exotic family vacations and find time for a weekly date with their husband. Not to mention fulfill those classroom duties jokingly labeled “volunteer,” like sitting at the crafts table while one in every four child pours an entire bottle of glue onto a thin piece of construction paper and inevitably adds a mountain of glitter. These moms remember to pack lunches every day, apply sunscreen to their kids’ scrunchy faces and send in the proper forms on the appropriate days. They even do it while in a seemingly good mood. Oh, and did I mention they work full-time?

No, I can barely manage to take my kids to Starbucks. Take earlier today, for instance. I had made a morning vet appointment for our dog, who had a suspicious-looking growth on her face, knowing that I had a sitter scheduled to take care of the girls while their brother was in preschool. When the sitter cancelled, I vowed to take along the twins. I can do this, I thought. OK, I admit I almost backed out and considered putting them with a neighbor’s sitter, but then I would have felt like an extreme wimp, not just a mere wimp. So, even though bringing them along also meant that I would have to lift our 70-pound, arthritis-ridden yellow lab into the back of the SUV since the girls were in the middle seat, I didn’t back down. The twins’ only requirements? One brought her bunny, the other her book.

The nice thing about low expectations is that when things turn out not to be a disaster, that means they went really well. The vet visit was a case in point. There was no one else in the waiting room when we got there, crayons and Twizzlers magically materialized for the girls, and everyone was happily occupied. When we went back to see the vet, the girls were quiet for, oh, about three minutes. Then one started some hybrid mix of chattering-singing, sort of like chanting, that unnerved me a bit while I was talking to the vet. But it did speed things up and we were done in ten minutes. It turned out the dog was going to stay there for the afternoon to have the benign bump removed, so I thought, hey, we’re already out; I’ll take the girls to lunch.

I needed to buy some coffee and there was a Starbucks across the street. The minute we walked in, the girls eyed the tables and chairs and announced they wanted to have lunch there. Perfect, I thought. We’ll grab a quick sandwich and head home.

One wanted tuna salad and the other chicken salad. I let them get chocolate milk if they promised to wait to drink it. We sat down, and the taller one immediately looked at her sandwich, pointed to her sister’s, and said, “I want what she’s got.” Not missing a beat, I took the other half of her sister’s sandwich and put it on the plate.

“Hey! That’s mine!” the smaller one yelled.

“No, I purposely got enough for two of you,” I said forcefully.

“OK,” she said, momentarily compliant.

Ah, the happy silence of eating. A full 45 seconds passed before I started hearing cries of “Done! I’m ready for my milk now!” The smaller one quickly hopped off her chair.

“No, you’re not done. Sit down.”

“I’m thirsty!”

“OK, one more bite then you can open your milk.”

“No!”

“One more bite or no snack this afternoon.”

“Noooooo!”

Sigh. I looked around. Only one other couple was in the shop, and they were in intimate conversation.

“OK, but don’t drink it all.” I handed over the milk.

“OK, mama.” That sweet little voice again.

Another 20 seconds of silence. Then I made the mistake of thinking we were actually having a civilized time. “Look,” I said, trying to get them to eat more. “Bunny wants some sandwich.” I made munching sounds and moved bunny’s head. The taller one started laughing.

“Mommy, I wuv you!” She climbed off her chair, lunged forward to hug me, and spilled my coffee in a move so efficient I couldn’t have copied it if I tried. My sandwich ruined, I instructed her, for what felt like the hundredth time, “PLEASE stay in your seat while we’re eating.” She turned and hustled back to her chair.

Another 30 seconds passed. They were only drinking chocolate milk now, having completely abandoned their sandwiches. The smaller one, who’d already kicked off her shoes, announced, “My feet are hot.” Suddenly the socks were on the table.

I’m the one who’s done now, I thought, grabbing the socks and throwing them in the Starbucks bag.

My phone rang. It was a call I had to take, but I couldn’t hear because of the music playing, so I stood up and walked a few feet away from the speaker. Like mosquitoes, the girls followed me to the corner.

“Get back to the table. No, not you — sorry, I’m with my kids at Starbucks and I can’t hear very well. OK… Talk to you later.”

I looked with disgust at my daughter’s bare feet in the middle of the coffee shop. Heavy sigh.

“Please put your shoes on. We’re leaving.”

I wrestled her shoes back on her feet — forget the socks — and threw away the trash. As I headed for the door, the other one announced that she needed to go to the bathroom. Naturally.

We all went together into the restroom where both used the bathroom again (they’d already gone once at the vet), everyone washed their hands — “by themselves,” they insisted — and I opened the door, just trying to propel myself forward. Then I remembered that I also wanted to buy a thermos for my husband, so I quickly grabbed one and paid for it while periodically shouting various phrases over my shoulder: “Put that down! Don’t touch anything — ever! — in this store! This is a nice store! We are in a public place and you don’t touch things! That’s breakable! Put that down! Please don’t play with that!”

Turning to leave, I noticed a new arrival in the corner, a neatly-dressed 50-ish looking woman who had been observing the scene. She smiled as I reached the door, my mosquitoes buzzing behind me.

“You really have your hands full.”

I smiled back weakly, pushing on the door.

“Yes, I do.”

Fasten your seat belts: Life with twin toddlers

Put on your crash helmet — good advice for life with twin toddlers

 

Tea-cluttering: One way to get ‘Happy’

I received one of my best Christmas presents ever this past year. I don’t think it was very expensive and it certainly isn’t beautiful to look at, as objects go. It is made of plastic, in fact, a simple organization tool. And in that lies its beauty.

I’m a tea drinker, especially in winter. It’s interesting how my habits are seasonal — I rarely make a cup of tea at night at the beach in summer, for instance. However, in the winter and fall months, I have steaming chamomile or ginger or sometimes a soothing sleep-inducing elixir almost every night. I don’t always drink much of the tea once made — I find the almost-full cup on the family room coffee table the next morning — but the act of making the tea persists and soothes.

Except the beginning of this ritual has always created in me a bit of angst. After putting on the kettle, I open the cabinet and reach up to the second shelf above the cereal (there’s always at least three opened boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats), where all the tea cartons are crammed into two metal bins, some spilling out over the top, others wedged in so I can barely reach them. My caffeine-free nighttime favorites are usually the ones lying on the top, so not hard to access. But each time I pull out the metal container, some boxes fall to the side or on the counter or, occasionally, on my head.

Oh, I’ve tried to organize them — divide them into two groups, herbal and caffeinated, or pack according to size, like jammed-in puzzle pieces. But like that pair of jeans that is just too tight, they never manage to really fit. So when my sister sat in my kitchen and asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I thought, what do I really want?

“I want a tea organizer. I have no idea if they make those. And I don’t want a fancy box like they present to you in restaurants. I want something that can go in this cabinet.”  As if working on the “The Price is Right,” I reached up and pulled out my makeshift system of ill-fitting boxes in too-small bins, gave her a “see what I mean?” look, and she nodded.

“OK, I’ve got it. I’m not saying I can find it, but I’ll try.”

And that was that. I basically forgot about it. I didn’t start looking for the item myself — no googling “tea storage” or asking if she’d found it yet. That would make me seem organized. In fact, I only realize I have the “tea problem” whenever I make tea. Then I make the tea and the problem goes away, and I don’t think about it any more — until the next night, when I make tea again.

So when on Christmas Day I opened what is officially named the “Tea Stand” (I only just now noticed its name etched on the end), I was a little surprised. I surveyed the slim, gray box with two-by-three rows of clear slots on each side and an indented groove at one end to easily grasp the whole miraculous contraption, and a smile spread across my face.

“I can’t believe you found this.” I said, beaming. “It’s perfect.”

Which it really is. A beautiful, plastic house for tea. Or maybe more like a tiny apartment building — one that may as well have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright I far as I’m concerned. Weeks after receiving it, I felt compelled to gush to my sister:  “I’m so happy every time I make tea.”

Such a small item, such a huge difference. Suddenly, instead of reaching up and wincing when little boxes bounce off my head, I gratefully grasp the grooved plastic handle and pluck a tidy packet from one of the open-topped slots on either side.

Without a modicum of angst, I unwrap the bag, place it in the mug, and put on the kettle. Then I slip the synthetic sculpture back onto the shelf, as if returning a book to its exact spot at the library. A perfect fit, this perfect gift.

What is it about getting “the perfect gift,” I wonder. Of course, it’s pleasing to use or look at or do, depending on what the gift is. But there’s more. It’s affirming. The perfect gift says the giver knows you, and you feel known. In giving to you, they “get” you. That’s a gift that, like a good cup of tea, warms to the core.

Pharrell Williams gets “Happy” – which is how I feel now every time I make tea:

Paper Girl

An organizer I once hired in desperation told me that everyone has a collection, and mine happens to be paper.

I confess to being a “piler” too. I have stacks of books and magazines on my dresser, by my bedside, and underneath the table in a basket. I usually only attack these piles when, like Herbert in the Miss Piggle Wiggle story who never picks up his toys, I can’t get to what I need because of all the stuff in the way. My hairbrush might be hidden under layers of paper I’ve amassed — in-progress writings, half-read magazines, blank pads for scribbling lists or brilliant ideas. Just paper, paper, paper.

I treasure it, I realize. My children’s once-in-a-lifetime-snapshots-of-a-moment-in-time crayon drawings. My oh-so-precious journals and notebooks from the past that should probably stay there. Old calendars with gorgeous pictures, inspirational quotes, and a year’s worth of living chronicled in its small squares.

Paper may be passe, but it’s so much more to me.

Yes, I am capable of throwing out and often do, but I know I keep things I shouldn’t. It’s just so hard. Jettisoning all of the Disney World buttons our family got while celebrating my recent birthday feels like I’m dismissing the specialness of the trip. Imprinted with each of our names, they’re little signs made to be saved. Maybe my children want these! I need to remember to ask! So, the buttons sit, waiting patiently on my dresser for the verdict on their fate.

I love and dread walking into a bookstore. Like a dieter in a bakery, I am tempted. Row upon row of sweet delights. Who can resist?

The magazine rack in the grocery store line always beckons, but I usually manage to put the publication back before buying. I’m one of those people you see reading and holding the magazine with one hand while blindly placing items on the belt with the other.

“M’am, can you push your cart up, please?”

“Oh!” I say, looking up and hurriedly stuffing “Allure” back in the wrong rack. What was the name of that Editor’s-Pick lipstick again?

Paper for me means information, inspiration, emotion. If I throw it away, I might lose what lured me in the first place. I think, when I’m old and forced to slow down, to sit and contemplate, I can take solace in sifting through all that paper, all those memories. Maybe then, and only then, will I throw them out.

We yearn to capture experience, to own it, absorb it into our bones. I remember when I was 12 and my cousin Margaret, a poet, took me to visit our aunt in Washington, D.C. After the trip, she wrote a poem titled “Smithsonian Album” that describes much of what we saw and did.

Contained in a slim volume on my bookshelf, the poem is an ode to our time together, presented and preserved on (naturally) paper. Yet only now, decades later, do I see that the poem also touches on  — almost casually, like a flip of the hair — that impossible yearning in all of us. The ending:

Save?
What will you save?
The gusty afternoon
a bit of laughter
the pin-prick of aching feet.
And what of “relief”
and Joan Miro
what of Rodin, abstract
the green mall
the water buffalo?

All these picture postcards–
learn to keep them
learn to let them go.

(Reprinted with permission from Margaret Boothe Baddour. Click on title above or here to see full poem.)

The front of a Mother's Day card my daughter made. She has no idea what an accurate depiction of it really is.

The front of a Mother’s Day card that my daughter made — an unwittingly accurate depiction of what my world sounds like.