Higher Math

On the first day of school, I inquired about volunteering in Buzzy's kindergarten class.  Her teacher informed me that the class parent spots were already filled.  What?  It was the first day of school.  Did the other mothers procure the coveted spots when I was helping Buzzy locate her new cubby, or was it that conversation in the lobby with the principal that doomed my chances?  I grumbled to myself about open and transparent elections and helicopter parents who usurped the Rule of Law in kindergarten parent politics. 

Despite my frustrations at being an unsuccessful helicopter parent myself, I totally understand why the mommies lined up to volunteer.  Daily life at home with small children can be soul sucking.  But, at school, kindergartners are sunshine and rainbows when they see their parents.  Buzzy's guileless little face lights right up if I pop into her classroom to drop something off.  Sometimes, she'll still hold my hand in the parking lot--although, more and more often, I have to make the first move and hold on tightly.  I remember my superstar mommy volunteering at my first grade Halloween party--she and Mrs. P dressed like witches and served us a brew steaming with magic that I only later learned was dry ice.  I also remember my mother volunteering at my sixth grade dance.  I hid behind a post and didn't make eye contact.  The other moms and I--we know where this is headed. Sign us up for cupcake duty and field trips to the cranberry bog now.

The email requesting volunteers at the kindergarten Halloween party sat in my inbox for over an hour before I saw it.  Late to the game again.  My heart dropped when I saw the one spot that was left: Ghost Math.  I find even the non-haunted variety of math pretty frightening.  I'd ordered my academic and professional life around avoiding it at all costs.  But there it was, laid out in some sort of equation.  Access to the Halloween party = overcoming fear of kindergarten math.

Her teacher assured me that I only had to know how to add up to five, so I signed up, with some trepidation.  Buzzy glowed during the Halloween parade.  She took my hand and showed me her classroom: the pencil sharpener, the book nook.  The golden morning got even better when I met the other mother at the Ghost Math station--she was a physician!  Music to this English major's ears.  She did the heavy math lifting, and Buzzy kindly helped me out a bit, too, before scampering off to bedazzle a pumpkin.  Mostly, I focused on reminding the kids to write their names on their worksheets.  I still don't quite understand the point of Ghost Math.  But I know things get trickier above five.

Both Limp and Feral (for Jill)

Six months.  It's been about that long since we moved from just-outside DC to suburban Boston.  The kids transplanted quickly, and Greg's happy to be back in the land of the losing Red Sox--he missed their glory days entirely, so it feels like the Boston of his youth.  The cat, on the other hand, barricaded herself in a closet and required narcotics to move.  With no pharmaceutical intervention, I've handled things slightly less gracefully. 

This past weekend, we ventured back to our old stomping grounds for the first time since moving.  Good-bye, stale snow!  Hello, early daffodils blooming on Rock Creek Parkway. We drove by the old house.  I cried.  (A lot.)  We celebrated many birthdays with our dearest friends (conveniently, many of us were born within a week of each other in February), I savored a girls' lunch with my besties at my beloved Leopold's, we met up with our old playgroup and the mommies who got me through the early years, and the girls enjoyed an 11-hour play date with Buzzy's most-missed pal from preschool while we hung with her wonderful parents.  We squeezed in nearly a half year of our old life into one long weekend, and it was fabulous. 

Greg had to stay in DC for work, so I was thankful that the girls were quiet on the evening flight home.  They were exhausted and as introspective as five- and three-year-olds can be.  I was emotionally and, after schlepping the luggage and children without Greg, physically drained.

We landed at Logan and waited at the world's slowest baggage claim.  When the conveyor belt finally lurched into action, Rosie tried to elbow her way through the business travelers' knees to retrieve our oversized suitcase herself.  I returned her to the stroller and resumed my lookout.  An ear-shattering screech reverberated through the terminal.  It didn't immediately register that it was a sound that might pertain to me--maybe they were transporting a crate of feral cats and something stepped on their collective tails?--but, no.  The sound emanated from a little girl in a ratty Areil costume, flailing on the dirty tiles, screaming "I WANT TO DO IT."  The crate of feral cats was my youngest daughter.  I tried to pick her up, but she went limp while continuing to scream.  The business travelers backed away, giving me free access to the conveyor belt.  I wrestled the suitcase off, somehow pried Rosie off the floor, put her now-writhing body into the stroller and wheeled her, screaming, through the airport as the crowds continued to part.  They parted all the way to the taxi cab stand, and we found ourselves first in line.  Suckers.

Rosie and Buzzy fell asleep before we'd exited the Ted Williams tunnel.  Eventually, I saw the rental house lights glowing.  We'd forgotten to turn them off.  Six months, two blizzards, countless fruitless house searches, one trip back to DC, still no spatulas, and an excruciatingly long cab ride later, I felt like I was finally home. 

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, I had hoped they wouldn't be swallowed by the Disney princess franchise.  Was I concerned that if my child wore an Ariel costume to the grocery store, people would think I'd dressed her that way as an expression of my personal taste?  (Before kids, I banked heavily on that tabula rasa crap theory--not realizing they'd arrive complete with their own ideas, of which tulle, glitter, magic, pink and princesses are currently paramount.) 

Now, of course, the sparkles shed by countless Belle, Ariel and Aurora costumes are permanently embedded in my car rugs and sofa cushions.   They've sung, they've danced, they've twirled--they've believed in the magic, and they've spread some of their own.  I defy you to not smile at an earnest little girl in a polyester princess dress sitting in a grocery cart.  We took them to Disney World last month--and my last, lingering, curmudgeonly reservations fell away as the girls, completely starstruck, shyly hugged the "real" princesses as the fireworks exploded.  I came home and had to admit we'd had a great, even magical, time.  The Mouse always wins. 

This past weekend, we went to Disney on Ice with three other cousins. I found the magic considerably thinner, but they were transported--mostly.  Buzzy studied the skaters like an appraiser at auction.  "Mommy.  I think that wasn't the real Ariel because I saw she had feet in ice skates.  I think the other ones were real, though."  On our way dinner after the show, they followed their big, first-grade cousin fearlessly, a laughing pack of little girls and one boy running down the sidewalk, away from their slowpoke collection of parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles.  I thought of Buzzy studying a mermaid's skates, putting it all together, all too soon.  And I realized, to my chagrin, that I didn't want these princess days to end after all.     

Bluebird Day

This bluebird day finds me not, alas, skiing, but surrounded by hard-packed drifts of rapidly melting snow that somehow make the air smell exactly like Colorado.  I bundle Rosie for waterproofing rather than warmth.  Face raised to the rays, I imagine I'm lunching mountainside instead of on a dry patch of driveway.  Rosie, soaked despite my efforts, climbs into her red toddler car and announces, "I'm going to California."  Guess she's going to be a beach girl.

As for me, it's mountains.  An Illinois flat-lander born and bred, you'd think that geographic beggars shouldn't be choosers, but you just can't help some things.  Of course, the sea is beautiful, but it's the mountains I crave.

Perhaps it's because I love to ski, but viewing Jaws at an impressionable age left me wary of saltwater?  (I can't shake my conviction that sharks target the corn-fed, Midwestern legs.)  I'm doing my level best to hide my craziness from my daughters, who have taken to the beaches and the water like, well, the little Bostonians who they're growing up to be.  A friend, homesick for another far-away, impossible home, pressed Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Against Wind and Tide into my hands before we left DC.  "Maybe it will help you read the words of someone who loved that part of the country." 

It has helped, as had the daily exposure to the water.  My favorite coffee spot is nestled harborside, and there's no doubt that its view beats the parking-lot vistas offered by my former DC haunt.  Yesterday, the water sparkled green, and wind whistled out--next stop: another continent.  So, I am learning to love this seascape, too.  But today--just for a few minutes--I enjoyed my mountain retreat.

Sugar Therapy

We'd talked up Rosie's new "big girl" ballet lessons all weekend.  Last Monday, we arrived only to find the studio dark.  In the Rec. Office, the front desk lady breezily apologized for not informing me earlier that the class had been cancelled due to low enrollment.  There are few things sadder than a tutu-bedecked three year old with a broken heart.  As Rosie realized what I was telling her, the tears started.  The loud kind.  I didn't exactly hustle her out of the office.  Only after the front desk lady fully appreciated the gravity of her error did I take Buzzy to the cupcake place to recover.

Wednesday is Buzzy's day to dance.  This morning, I got up before the kids, cooked them a hot breakfast (oatmeal, and not the instant kind)--and got Buzzy to the studio promptly at 11:05, glowing with maternal achievement.  (Anything under 10 minutes late is 'prompt' for us.)  Unfortunately, Buzzy's class started at 10:00, just as it has since it began in September.  Cue Buzzy's tears.  They're huge.  She really should be in drama class, but I'm afraid to feed the fire.  "I won't know the steps for the recital!  I won't know the steps!!"  We headed to the bakery for pre-lunch M&M cookies all around.

As I munched on my cookie, I realized maybe I'd been a little harsh on the lady in the Rec. Office. I remembered that my own superstar mother had once miscalculated the time of one of my ballet recitals, and I'd missed the last performance.  I remember nothing about that ballet class, but I remember the revolving pie case at the Odyssey Restaurant, which is where she took me to find comfort in a pile of meringue.  

Fat Tuesday Forty

In the last week, I accidentally hit a medicine man in the thigh with a lemon quarter.   I met erudite and hilarious writers who matter-of-factly accept the appearance of wolves as spiritual guides.  I walked on Red Rocks and sniffed the silver-berried air.  I got a facial from a lovely, Japanese-speaking woman who ministered to my shoulders with hot rocks she got from the sea in San Diego.  “They still have good energy!  You live in Sedona a while, you start talking like that!  Very different from East Coast!”   Since, after all, it was my birthday, I also got a pedicure and received kick-ass foot maintenance advice from another esthetician (Black & Decker Mouse hand sander with fine grit paper.  You’re welcome).  I learned a Sufi secret.  I met an old, dear friend and her jolly, impossibly dimpled baby in the Phoenix airport.  My friend was tired in such a familiar way.  I realized it's a life-changing exhaustion, even after the sleep deficit disappears.  I made a luminous, smart and kind new friend whose creativity, insight and logic were all reminders of how fabulous it is to get out of your comfort zone just so you can meet people like her.  The term “douchbagel” became, for better or worse, part of my lexicon.   I did not seek an encounter with an animal spiritual guide, but I read some psalms and came back to my old gurus (vintage U2) after a long time away.  I remembered the importance of tending to my own medicine.  I resolved to write non-precious things more often and to actually post them, too.  Let's hope I don't regret the last one.  Eeek!  Too late.


Sedona without expectations.  The desert grows beauty.  The red rocks anchor.  Sun and clouds duel on an endless stage.

Inside: a smooth duvet, pitch black room and silence uninterrupted.  The sleep I've dreamt of for over five years does not disappoint. 

Strangers become comrades.  We battle to get the words out, learning the trick, sometimes, is to surrender.  We surrender precious.  We surrender ego.  We surrender sentences.  It is safe.