Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing the Moments, 2011

The February blizzard moves in just as the Daddy/Daughter dance begins, and Jason and Annie arrive home covered in a layer of white. We wake up the next morning to inches and inches of snow drifted halfway up our door and every school closed. Jason cancels patients for the day. Our streets and sidewalks - usually cleared by the dozens of speedy city plows - remain completely covered with snow. Just after lunch, Sarah and Katie and I strap on snowshoes and wind our way through city blocks and across baseball fields step by step. The sun is out. There is no traffic. The only sound is our voices and laughter as we cross the street and traipse across the frozen lake. We talk about books, about upcoming vacations, about soba noodles. We find ourselves at Rose's and it seems right to strip off a layer of snow gear and have pints of dark beer in a booth. When we hike back to our street, the neighborhood has gathered in our front yard with their sleds and cameras and children and there is a pile of snow a mile high next to our driveway.


I wake up in a canopy bed draped in white netting, the room still smelling faintly of mosquito coil incense, and I can't wait to throw open the shuttered wooden door and see the sun rise over the ocean. The girls giggle in their beds in the next room and I roll out my yoga mat so I can face the water. I breathe half-heartedly through a few poses but what I really want is to sit, cross-legged, and watch the sky turn incrementally lighter by the minute, listen to the waves lap against the shore below. After breakfast I take a kayak out along the coast as far as I dare to go alone and then I drift. I tilt my face up and close my eyes and let the sun beat down on my smile. When I return, we all swim together off the raft that's anchored off shore, and there is a moment when I am quite sure that this is our whole family as it is meant to be. Later, I lie in a hammock that's just feet above the water with the girls and take turns reading them the books they bring to me as the sun gets lower in the sky and Jason snorkels off the reef.


We've spent the day on the beach, a jumble of dogs and kids and jet skis, and there was an all-ages dance party after cocktail hour but before dinner, and now the children have been de-sanded and tucked into bunk beds. It is dark and starry and still warm this late at night as we make our way down wooden steps to the beach and laugh our way out to the deep. We have not been night-swimming since long before marriage and children but this August night the stars align and we all stay in as long as we want until we go back up to the hot tub, until Jemma comes out to find us at midnight and we remember that we are middle-aged parents, after all.


It's hot and we've camped for the day at a magical place where North Bar Lake flows out to Lake Michigan via a warm, shallow, clear tributary. After we picnic and the girls try to catch a few fish with their grandpa, we leave Mimi and Jemma behind to play in the sand and we walk north to the dune overlook. Jason, Annie and I start clawing our way up and she has never climbed anything like this before but up she scrambles like a monkey, stopping to rest whenever I do, smiling proudly when she reaches the top. We stand for a moment and look out at the Manitou Islands glinting in the sunshine, and then we begin bounding down. She and I hold hands and practice jumping, feet together, and then we bound, one leg at a time, our strides becoming wider and faster the farther down the dune we go. She lets go of my hand and goes a little ahead of me. When we look at each other again, we are both smiling with pure joy.


We're at Great Wolf Lodge with cousins and we've split up to wait in line in pairs for various rides. Annie and I have climbed the stairs with our tube and are waiting for our turn when we look down and see Jason and Jemma in their tube as it shoots out the bottom of a giant water slide. I see Jason paddle the tube over to the steps and get out, then help Jemma out of her seat so she is standing on the pool deck. She jumps up and down with glee, then pumps her hands victoriously over her head, a huge smile on her face, and wants to get in line to do it again. And again.


We're wearing neon-lettered sweatshirts, blue eye-shadow, and side ponytails. We're drinking Red Bull and vodkas against our better judgment. We're crowding the stage to get as close as possible and we're singing the lyrics to every song until we're hoarse, dancing until the music stops, smiling so much our cheeks hurt the next day. (Also, our heads.)


It's girls' weekend and the six of us are at Connie's cottage. The kitchen island is covered with food: cheese, crackers, olives, almonds, cereal mix, avocados, chips, brownies. We sit on stools or we stand, idly drinking a glass of wine, but what we really want to do is talk. Gina starts a story and we are rapt except for the parts where we can't help but interject our disbelief: "I love this story!" I say, halfway through, before I even know what's going to happen next.


It's freezing on Mackinac Island and we've bundled ourselves in down before getting into a horse-drawn carriage to wind our way up to the center of the island for dinner. When we arrive, the restaurant is full of the clinking of glasses and silverware and there are fires burning in the huge old fireplaces. We're seated at a table in the back corner, up a few steps from the rest of the dining room, and from our vantage we can see the packed house, candlelight and wine making everyone's cheeks rosy. We split a bottle of red, Jason orders beef goulash with spaetzle, and he is so happy when it comes that I think he might cry. Our bellies full of warm food, we take another carriage home, breathing in the cold air, listening to the clip-clop of horseshoes, holding hands under the blanket.


I'm sitting in a church pew at Uncle John's funeral having struggled through a hymn and passed Kleenex down the row before deciding definitively that there should be no more looking at Aunt Bonnie. His two best friends, looking for all the world like characters from a movie about the mob or maybe Texas football, get up to talk. They talk about life and loyalty, childhood friends and, yes, football. Then one of them says, a little abruptly in Aunt Bonnie's direction, "You know he loved you so much, girl," and the tears are welling up again because I am realizing how rare that kind of love is, how lucky I am to have it, and how it might feel to lose it. In spite of myself, I look at her again. She is beautiful, nodding, crying. She knows.


It is the fourth of July and we have stood in the heat of the parade until the fire trucks sprayed us down at the end. Now we settle on the huge front porch at Trevor and Lisa's and the girls race by in a blur of red, white, and blue while the grown-ups drink mojitos and play guitar. Later, the kids will get cranky and scared of the fireworks and too full of sugar for our liking, but just now they're getting wet in the sprinkler and we don't care. We're looking out at the blue bay, just talking, and feeling like there's no other place in the world to be than with family up north on the fourth of July.


The tree is just up and we decorated it today without breaking any ornaments and with a minimum of fighting or tears. There's a fire in the fireplace, Elf on the television, hot cocoa in our tummies, and little girls in flannel jammies in our laps. Thanksgiving is just over and the whole of the Christmas season stretches out in front of us. Our family of four is snug and happy and healthy in this cozy house, and all is right with the world.

Christmas and Birthday, Recapped

Now that Christmas, Jemma's birthday, and all the assorted celebrations seem like the distant past, I'm loathe to do a holiday recap but know I'll regret it later if I don't. So.

Christmas Eve: For the first time in my life, I did not gather with my mom's side of the family for an evening of appetizers and plates and plates of little sugared treats. In the spirit of less is more and quality over quantity that we tried to embrace this holiday season, we made Christmas Eve about our own little family of four instead. We went to church at 5:00 p.m. for the family service (in years previous, we have never, ever attended church on Christmas Eve or on Christmas because of various family obligations) and it felt sweet and right to be singing O Holy Night on that very special night.

On our way home, we took time to drive up and down the streets in our area that deck out the curbs with luminaries every Christmas Eve. At home, we began a new tradition of Christmas Eve fondue dinner by candlelight. We had sparkling grape juice for the girls, and while we took turns spearing tart green apples and sourdough bread cubes to dip in the hot cheese, we also took turns toasting each other, our not-present family members, and our favorite places and things and events of the year. I may have cried a little.

Cookies and milk set out for Santa and girls tucked in beds, Jason and I filled stockings and talked about where we'd been and what we'd done for the last fifteen Christmasses we've been together, then went to sleep knowing the house was fully prepped for a morning of chaos and cheer.

Christmas Day:  I've written before about how all our Christmas mornings (and seasons) are bound to blend together in my mind, so every year I try to single out a few memorable details. This was the Christmas, then, when

  • the green grass predominated over snow, much to the girls' dismay.
  • the girls and I led Jason on a scavenger hunt to find his new skis.
  • the furnace quit at some point during our present-opening frenzy and we spent lunch squeezed together at a little table we'd pulled to stand in front of the fireplace and spent the night with space heaters and air mattresses until the repairman could come the next morning, when the majority of the house was 53 degrees.
  • Santa brought Annie an iPod touch (onto which she immediately loaded an awesome-in-its-randomness mix of The Beatles, Toto, Justin Bieber, Abba, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Brandi Carlile) and Jemma a pink Razor scooter which she scooted up and down the hallway.
  • we spent the afternoon with my family at my parents' house opening presents, playing fun games, and eating dinner with my grandparents.
  • I snuck in a run around the lake with a friend and Jason got out on his bike on Christmas Eve in the sunshine.
  • Annie and I made marshmallows for the first time together and Jemma destroyed the kitchen rolling them in powdered sugar.
Two days later, Jemma turned five. Five. Five is huge, big-kid, momentous (for me) and I can literally not believe she's five years old. We woke her up with balloons and YET MORE presents, celebrated with a Sugarplum Fairy dance party with eight of her friends in the afternoon, and had Smitten Kitchen double chocolate layer cake, homemade macaroni and cheese, and raspberries for dinner. We measured her, and sure enough, she's half an inch taller than she was just six months ago.

We've filled the holiday break with a trip up north, ice-skating downtown after dinner out, a million art projects, a night of cozy fun with friends and neighbors, a couple hours of burning energy at the gymnastics place, swimming at the pool, hours of Lego-building, an epic trip to the library, playing checkers and tic-tac-toe on the iPad, a lot of television and a lot of bickering. Just now, I'm hunkered in a coffee shop, post-yoga, trying to snatch a few minutes of quiet before I take the girls roller-skating this afternoon. I'm trying to gather my thoughts about this year that's almost over, figure out what 2012 is going to be about for me and for our family, and capture the texture of this exact time in our life. 

Birthday letter to Jemma and bunches of Christmas photos to come, but for now I'm just sweaty, tired, a little hungover, and trying my best to get the details of the last week down before they're gone.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Present over Perfect

If you, like me, sometimes want to punch the song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in the face, go and read this. I came across it tonight, and I'm adopting it as my manifesto - for the holidays, for life. Shauna Niequist is my hero.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Days 'Til Christmas

We're on Day Four of sick Annie over here (so our jolly up-north Express Christmas weekend was not quite as jolly as we had hoped it would be, though it was still jolly nonetheless) and Day One of eleventy billion days off school.  The first time-out happened at 9:29 a.m.

Jemma is jack-rabbiting around the house like a jumping bean all day long, constantly asking and re-asking how many days until Christmas, until her birthday. She loves her new purple footie pajamas but they make her feet too hot so she wears them right up until bedtime, at which point she switches to her snowflake jammies, which do not make her feet too hot. When she sings Rudolph, she says, "had a berry shiny nose," and I wish she would always sing it that way.

Annie gingerly eats one bite of yogurt, one bite of toast, takes one sip of tea before lying back down in her bed. Her hair is a pile of mangled golden knots but I pet it anyway. She wishes aloud fervently that there would never be any more germs in the world, worries aloud hysterically that she will still be sick on Christmas, circles back time and again to why oh why it had to be her, sick, not able to play in the snow with her cousins.

There is a giant new box of Legos spilled across the bedroom floor, a pan of caramel cooling on the kitchen counter, an American Girl doll sitting in the chair across from me, fully dressed in riding clothes. There is a cookie exchange and a piano lesson and things to schedule into the new year.

I go to yoga tonight after dinner, kiss the girls good-night as Jason is reading to them in our bed, breathe my way through seventy-four minutes of movement. During the seventy-fifth minute, as we lie on our backs with our eyes closed in the warm room in the dark with Christmas lights twinkling at the ceiling, she says, "There is nothing for you to do right now. There is nowhere to go. There is no list. There is no phone. There is just you, and this mat, and this breath, and this room."

Tomorrow will be five days 'til Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Preschool, Observed

As luck would have it in this, the most ridiculously busy wonderful time of the year, I've been volunteering in Jemma's classroom every single day this week. Tuesday was the day we celebrated her birthday and the birthday of her good friend H., who also has a December birthday that will occur over the holiday break and who (sadly) is moving out of state after the new year.

H's mom and I planned a joint treat - ice cream with lots of fun toppings - and converged on the classroom to set up the treat and enjoy circle time with the birthday girls. We'd scooped all the ice cream, set out all the toppings at the two snack tables, and then we stood for a minute, watching as the kids sang a few of their adorable holiday songs, including one about Santa to the tune of "Bingo." When they were done, having ho- ho'd their way through the final chorus, Mrs. C. said, "Good job! You remembered all the verses! Kiss your brains!" and, you know what, they did. Proudly and immediately and confidently kissed their own open palms and planted a kiss right on the tips of their heads.

When do we stop doing these things?


Today I was the Holiday! Party! Helper!, which meant showing up half-way through the classroom time to (again) set up the day's snack, clean up all the requisite hot chocolate spills, and then to assist with the pinata-whacking for Las Posadas. I was laying out Christmass-y napkins next to plates of Clementines and Rice Krispie treats when a little boy disengaged from the circle and came up to me.

"Who are YOU?" he asked.
"I'm Mrs. D." I said brightly. "It's nice to meet you."
He sat down at a seat. "I play Mortal Kombat every day at my house! Pow!" He was thrilled with his announcement. I looked at my friend A., my eyebrows at the ceiling, a smile frozen on my face.
"Gosh, that's interesting information," I told the little boy.
"Yeah!" he continued, "I'm a GAMER!" and A. and I almost died on the spot.


Tomorrow is a field trip to sing those adorable holiday songs at a retirement home. God only knows what will happen there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Popcorn: strung.
Pudding by the fireplace: eaten.
Christmas gifts: purchased and wrapped.
Christmas cards: addressed and mailed.
Granola: made and packaged.
Twinkling Christmas lights in a five-mile radius: viewed while drinking hot cocoa and listening to Perry Como in the car.
Polar Express: watched.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: sung in the bathtub.
Christmas Story: read.
Peanut butter fudge: made (and partially eaten).
Angel Tree gift and food pantry donation: dropped off.
Joy to the World: played on the piano by Annie.
Advent calendars: half-opened.
Nutcracker: fancily attended:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Things That Happened

Jason belongs to a small group of guys, a club of sorts which I should not even be writing about because, like Fight Club, the first rule of the club is: do not talk about the club. But anyways, they get together every once in a while and one thing they do is drink. It's not an excessive, frat-boy kind of drinking but instead a nerd-like kind of drinking that involves blind tastings and rating systems and whatnot. Needless to say, although these events usually occur within a very short distance from our home, I never let Jason go out the door without yelling, "Don't drink and drive!"at him. I'm sure he finds this helpful. But it seems that he is listening, because when I asked him on Thursday morning if he had walked home the night before, he said casually, "Dave pulled me home in the Chariot behind his bike." So there is now a photo of Jason, covered with a blanket and looking for all the world like Mini-Me from Austin Powers (but in a stroller rather than a Baby Bjorn), in a bike trailer.


I went to the mall yesterday. I'd been needing to replace my concealer and procrastinating the visit to the Bobbi Brown counter until I could go on a day when I'd actually showered and was wearing something other than sweaty workout clothes. (Why do I feel the need to look my best for the complete stranger at the makeup counter yet I present my just-finished-75-minutes-of-yoga self at my child's school on a regular basis?) Here's how the interaction went:

Me: Hi, I need new undereye concealer, but I don't see the little pot I have right now.
Beautiful Makeup Lady with Intriguing Accent: Ah, yes. We've discontinued that packaging; the concealer comes packaged with powder now, too.
Me: Ah, okay, I'm not sure what color I'll need, then.
BMLwIA: Well, if you have a moment I can put you in the chair and try one or two on for shade matching.
Me (FATAL MISTAKE): Oh, sure.
BMLwIA, frowning at my face: Now, what are you using for an undereye cream?
Me: Oh, I just use one all-over moisturizer for my whole face.
BMLwIA: (shakes head sadly) No, no. Is most important skin to care for! (Takes pot of thick white cream and begins dabbing it under my eyes.)
Me: That does look . . . dewy.
BMLwIA: Now, next we need to put a corrector under the concealer.
Me: I . . what is corrector?
BMLwIA: You'll see, it brightens the undereye area and really camouflages the dark circles you have.
Me, looking in mirror: Yeah. It does.
BMLwIA: Now I apply undereye concealer, set with powder, and finish with bronzer. Voila!"
Me, looking in mirror, looking about a zillion times better than I did four minutes earlier: My husband is going to kill me.

I don't know, I'm in my mid-thirties, and I suppose it's time to move beyond the drug-store make-up that I've been using since I was a teenager. And when Jason sees the credit card bill, I'll just remind him about that one time he went to Costco to buy eggs and came home with $150.00 worth of groceries.


We're taking the girls to see The Nutcracker this afternoon. To say they are excited would be an understatement. Annie appeared in the kitchen at 7:30 this morning, dressed head to toe in the outfit she's going to wear to the ballet, complete with tights, shoes, and headband. "Can you curl my hair?" she asked. "And can I borrow a pair of your earrings?" In six hours, Annie, in six hours . . .


A year ago right now, Jason and I were in Quebec City. Sigh.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Have Been . . .

 . . . making lists, checking them twice, losing the lists, and making more lists.
 . . . avoiding getting the mail, because I haven't addressed my Christmas cards yet and I don't particularly want to see the eager beaver ones in my mailbox.
 . . . going to book club and actually talking about the book (Room by Emma Donoghue).
 . . . using an inappropriately large portion of my child-free time at hot yoga, my latest exercise obsession.
 . . . getting up before the rest of the family in the mornings just to drink my coffee in the dark and look at the Christmas tree.
 . . . wishing for snow, even though I usually loathe it, because it just doesn't seem like almost-Christmas without it.
 . . . painting toenails with holiday colors.
 . . . learning how to download free e-books from the library onto the iPad (magic!).
 . . . wishing Annie would stop answering, "a hamster" when asked, "What do you want from Santa?"
 . . . sending out invitations for Jemma's 5th birthday party!
 . . . planning our lives into February, already.
 . . . eating Clementines.
 . . . snuggling with the girls on the couch to watch bits of Polar Express and The Grinch.
 . . . doing laundry.
 . . . scouting for new, improved holiday cookie recipes.
 . . . barely cooking.
 . . . avoiding writing.
 . . . braiding the girls' hair.
 . . . listening to Annie practice her piano.
 . . . swooning over Ryan Gosling in the movie Crazy Stupid Love.
 . . . trying to make this season about cozy joy and anticipation instead of frantic preparation.
 . . . eating more than my fair share of sushi.
 . . . reminiscing that Jason and I were on our way to Quebec City exactly a year ago today.
 . . . thinking about getting a job.
 . . . wanting to freeze time.