Strung Together

On a recent weekend away, we stopped at a national park to take a look around. The temperatures that day had climbed into the high 90s and it was unbearably hot. As Henry stepped out of the car, he lamented the heat exclaiming, “UGH. It’s so HUMID.”

From somewhere on the other side of the car, Millie replied calmly and clearly, “No, that’s just the sweat of your enemies you’re feeling.”

One morning a couple of weeks ago, Bob decided to make pancakes for the kids. It’s always fun to watch them groggily emerge from their bedrooms following the scent of maple syrup. When Millie wandered in, Bob immediately went to embrace her in a good morning hug which she crankily declined.

“If you even so much as look at me, I will stab you in the brain with this fork,” she declared whilst wielding her breakfast cutlery. We all looked up from our assorted tasks and collectively responded, “Whoa, dude. That’s way harsh.” Millie looked at Bob and exclaimed cheerily, “I’M JUST JOKING!”

As she turned and walked towards the table we heard her mutter under her breath, “Don’t worry. This fork probably couldn’t penetrate the skull anyway.”

Everything is fine but also we’re all sleeping with one eye open.

Speaking of Millie, she is our easiest-to-please eater. She always has been. She’ll try most any food. She’s adventurous and curious. She gets ridiculously excited about her favorite foods. She’s positively giddy when I make her most treasured meal – ground beef tacos seasoned with that orange seasoning mix you get in the packet at the grocery store.

Bolstered by virtually unfettered access to cooking competition shows on Netflix, the kids suggested we have a family cook-off showdown of our own. Charlie and Bob decided to pair off (of course). Millie decided she would be the judge (of course). That left Henry and I as a team (we always are).

Each team picked a night to prepare dinner and Millie had an elaborate and indecipherable points system that took into account originality, presentation, and whether or not dessert was included.

I don’t want to knock Bob’s kitchen skills but Henry and I totally won. Hands down. It… wasn’t even a competition. But, it took like, three hours to prepare dinner from (mostly) scratch and, my word, I would not last as a pioneer wife. I was too tired to even touch the dishes. Also, let me know if you’d like my sister’s winning recipe for meatloaf. There weren’t even any leftovers.

We’ve been making it a point this summer to come together for dinner most nights. Between my work commitments and the kids commitments, both dinner and dinnertime had become a scattered and random affair the first half of the year. We just simply fell out of the habit.

But, we kickstarted the effort this summer. Gathering each night around the dining room table to chat and laugh and linger. And, it’s been lovely. Turns out, my kids are very funny and I enjoy spending time with them after all.

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Speaking of dinner around the table, I finally found the wing chairs for my dining room that I have been searching more than a year for. I found them on Craigslist. I wasn’t sure if people still USED Craigslist but, out of desperation, I logged on looking for wing chairs I was certain I would never find. Turns out, a nice elderly couple downsizing from their large suburban home near the city was selling exactly what I was looking for.

Now, here’s where I admit that I’ve never, ever purchased even a single thing from Craigslist despite using the site years ago to offload dozens of furniture pieces over the course of four homes and two major house renovations. I’ve only ever been a seller. Never a buyer.

I was a little nervous when it came time to pick the chairs up and I had to take Henry for moral support but the couple could not have been nicer, the chairs were exactly as described, and they only smell ever-so-slightly like someone else’s house.

I am now completely addicted to looking for gently used, high-quality furniture at rock bottom prices sold by old people moving to patio homes. Turns out, those are the people still using Craigslist.

Speaking of my new chairs, it feels like the dining area is finally complete. It’s organized and decorated and soothing – something I’m trying to duplicate in every area of our house.

I am on a mission and that mission is to organize the hell out of everything.

I’ve been cleaning and clearing out every corner of our home. Every room. Every closet. Every nightmare underneath-the-bed scenario. Every single space. Ruthlessly discarding every piece of garbage that is anywhere. My kids are so confused, too. I’ve tried to “include them in the process” like all of the good advice columns tell you to do but there is a point where it’s just not really possible anymore and someone has to be the grownup and tell Millie that not every gum wrapper is a treasured piece of art and explain to Charlie that there’s a limit to how many deer skulls one ten-year-old should have in his bedroom.

But, they’re on to me. They know I’ve been throwing things away without their permission. Millie started grilling me about what happened to an Easter basket with a broken handle she got as a party favor two years ago that I dragged out from the back corner of her closet and threw in the garage garbage can approximately six minutes before her interrogation began. I just shrugged my shoulders and said I had no idea. I mean, I’m just straight up lying at this point.

Someday, my kids will read these words and realize that their mother lied and lied to them about what happened to that puzzle of the solar system they never even once put together or that stuffed animal that was kind of ugly and they will confront me with the truth and I still won’t feel even an ounce of guilt.

 

Signs of Summer

1. This pile of last-day-of-school papers and projects and general backpack detritus that has been sitting on the chair in our front hall for the entirety of the three weeks school has been out. I mean, really. At the very least, someone should probably deal with that lunchbox on top, right? Good lord, what if there is food in there. Bob and I are both just kind of pretending this whole foyer situation doesn’t exist. It’s really working for us.

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2. Me, shouting at varying levels of intensity and annoyance:

“Close the door, please!”
“Hey! You left the door open!”
“Can you PLEASE shut the door!”
“WHY is the door OPEN?”
“WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING THAT YOU CAN’T SHUT THE DOOR ARE YOUR ARMS BROKEN BECAUSE IF THEY ARE THEN USE YOUR FEET BECAUSE I AM LOSING MY MIND AND DO YOU WANT ME TO LOSE MY MIND STOP TALKING THAT IS A RHETORICAL QUESTION BECAUSE MY MIND IS ALREADY GONE”

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3. Charlie planted a small garden from seeds right outside our bedroom window and then proceeded to stare at the soil every day for weeks waiting for something to emerge. He was willing his plants to grow with the very power of his mind. The day something green appeared was his very best day. I wasn’t in on the garden planning but was pretty excited to have a supply of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers right from our own backyard this summer. Relevant to this story is the fact that I make a zucchini bread that the kids love (primarily, I’m sure, because the recipe calls for one entire cup of sugar per loaf). I haven’t made it in a while though because we’re no longer members of a CSA which used to be our primary source for zucchini. When the kids ask when we’re going to make the bread again, I always reply, “When I can get good zucchini!” Charlie took this to heart and planted an entire garden plot of zucchini. It is the only thing growing in his garden. I’m going to need more sugar.

4. Camps really are one of the very best parts of summer. The kids get to pursue activities they are interested in and I do not have to do anything to assist them in that pursuit because (totally) underpaid high schoolers and college students help them live their dreams.

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5. The unrelenting, ever-present worry that my children are spending too much of their time in front of screens. This is the same story. Every single summer. The same deep-seated fear that they’re wasting their summer watching prank videos on YouTube or building kingdoms in Minecraft. Or, whatever it is they do in Minecraft. I’m really not sure. I’m not even sure I can keep dedicating bandwidth to worrying about this. It’s just a thing that… is. The kids live a rich life full of different adventures and responsibilities and they regularly get fresh air and stuff so, I don’t know. I’m trying to be breezy but I will probably still fret about this for the next eight weeks.

6. My children’s continued lack of appreciation for the time and energy Bob and I invest in showing them a good time. I mean, this is not the face of a kid that is about to appreciate an $85.00 dinner. Because, that’s what this particular meal cost and that’s the best Charlie’s attitude got and I have some regrets.

7. I just ate three ears of sweet corn for dinner. That, I do not regret.

The Little Big Things

I landed my first job when I was fifteen years old. After years of babysitting for neighbors, I marched into my school district office, requested a work permit, and headed straight to the local mall, where I was employed part-time until I left for college.

I have always worked. Always. Except for when I had my third child and I gave up trying to make it all work and left work behind for a bit. It was hard. I missed work.

When I started back up with paid employment in 2016, as Millie was turning five years old, I decided to open up a local bank account. We had an account where Bob worked in the city but it made sense to have easier access to our money locally, too. His pay went into that account and my pay would go into this account. It didn’t matter that everything mine is his and his is mine. It just mattered that after a dozen years of managing every aspect of our budget, investments, and overall financial health, I would be once again contributing to our budget, investments, and overall financial health.

It made me so happy to go back to work – to have an account that reflected my work.

On new bank account day, I gathered up all of my new job deposit information and headed to the bank branch bringing Bob in tow. I knew he needed to be on the account, too, in case I ever died tragically in some Joanna-appropriate manner (which, would be, like, trespassing on someone’s property to get a better look at their house or something). So, Bob was with me at the bank branch and I asked that he be added to the account but it was absolutely clear that he wasn’t the one opening the account. It was me! I was opening the account! With my new job money!

Imagine my dismay when the account statement arrived and I saw it was addressed to Bob. His name was the primary on the account. My name was secondary. The checks arrived and Bob’s name was listed first, too. This was especially grating as I’m not entirely sure Bob even remembers HOW to write a check.

It was such a little thing – the manager opening the account for me but listing him first. Her not bothering to ask who should be the primary account holder. Her assuming it would be my husband. The man in the equation. It seems so inconsequential, my rage. Like it shouldn’t even matter. But, it did matter. It mattered to me. A lot.

It mattered so much that it made me want to close the account.

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A week or so ago, I bought a new car. We’d known for awhile that our minivan needed to be replaced but Bob and I were unable to decide on what kind of car to replace it with. Finally, after way too many months of indecision, Bob arrived home declaring that the minivan needed to go! It was time! The impasse must end! So, I said I would take care of it. I’d figure out a new car I thought we could both agree on.

The next morning, I notified work I’d be late and I drove to a dealership a little ways away but one I knew that had the model and color I was interested in seeing. I’ve bought a few cars over the years so I knew how it all worked and I knew how much I wanted to pay and I knew how all car salesman have treated me in the past so I arrived with an all business demeanor absolutely loaded for bear.

It was a gorgeous day and the salesman I approached was lingering outside in the sun. I asked to see the car I had found online and he said, “Sure,” without even once looking around me to see if my husband was behind me. When I sat in the car, surveyed the cargo space, had him point out where the closest USB ports to where my children would be seated were located, he kindly showed me all of the features without even once asking if my husband would be joining us. When I asked him for his best price, let him know he was in competition with another dealership, told him I could close the deal on the spot, he never even once asked if I needed to consult with my husband. That night, I got to surprise my husband with a new car, in the make he had wanted, and I have to say it was a very Lexus-December-to-Remember type thing but without the red bow (or the Lexus actually).

It was such a little thing that the salesman at that dealership wasn’t asking. He could have easily asked. Could have easily assumed that I couldn’t do it on my own. But, he didn’t. He never once assumed that there was anyone else in the car buying equation but me. That mattered to me. It mattered a lot.

It mattered so much that it made me want to buy a car.

I’m not really entirely sure what my point here is other than I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important our words are. How much weight they carry. What we do say and what we don’t say. What we do ask and what we don’t ask.

It’s hard not to think about it when things seem so broken – the vitriol amongst us at a fever pitch. It’s hard not to imagine that some of that could be fixed or mended with a better choice of words.

Being inclusive, reserving assumptions, watching our phrasing are all such little moments. Little opportunities to do better by someone, for someone. I hear people complain and bemoan the extra steps it takes to be cautious and mindful with our words. That those little things shouldn’t matter. I think they do matter. I think they matter a lot.

What if all of the little things add up to much bigger things?