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 One In The Middle

Charlie turned ten years old last week. He celebrated with a birthday on Tuesday, a field trip on Wednesday, a day spent at the office with his father on Thursday, and a weekend camping trip.

When I woke him up for school yesterday morning, he protested his need to attend by explaining, “But, there’s nothing happening this week.”

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Charlie always needs to be doing something. When the weekend hits, Bob and I look at each other and ask, “What’s on Charlie’s list?” We’ll jot down things inside the house that need fixing, things outside the house that need planting, things around the house that need… Charlie-ing.

When we tear him away from a small screen on Saturdays and Sundays, Charlie will spend his time on projects. Always tinkering. Always doing.

It came as a great relief when finally – at long last – Charlie grew heavy enough to mow the lawn. See, his diminutive stature was so diminutive that the lawn tractor didn’t recognize that anyone was sitting on the seat of the mower when Charlie would climb aboard and, as a safety precaution, would automatically cut the engine. Oh, how we rejoiced when Charlie weighed enough to keep the motor running. Now, he mows, too. It’s on his list.

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Charlie’s big Christmas present this past year was a brand new orange kayak. He had whittled his wish list down to the aforementioned kayak, a metal detector, or a ventriloquist’s dummy. We went for the kayak.

If it’s something to be done out of doors, Charlie is in. He putters around the pond in his kayak. Fishes there, too. Hikes the neighborhood, ensuring the paths are clear. Uses a bow gifted from his uncle for target practice in the backyard. Polishes his BB gun. Starts a fire in the pit on a chilly spring night.

The natural world matters to Charlie. He saves a turtle stuck on the sidewalk. He studies the sky when a storm approaches. He peers at the stars through his telescope.

Charlie is our Outdoor Boy. Always, always planning his next adventure.

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Two summers ago, Charlie went through an intense round of testing to figure out why school wasn’t clicking. To better discern why learning was so difficult for him. It was a laborious process for Charlie but through that testing we learned Charlie has a significant learning disability. His testing revealed deficiencies across the board – in all areas except one – his vocabulary. He scored “superior” in that area.

“Well, that makes sense,” we mused, thinking of Charlie’s incessant talking and story-telling. If votes were tallied, Charlie would be the People’s Choice winner in this family. He is beloved by those he’s met and those he hasn’t. He’s always drawn others in with his stories, his words. The test results confirmed both what we’d known and what we’d feared.

I wish school were easier for Charlie. I, selfishly, wish it were easier for us, too. Charlie is a challenge. He’s got years of hard work ahead. Bob and I do, too. As parents, we’re conditioned to tell our children they can do anything they set their mind to. But, it’s not that easy. It will never be that easy for Charlie.

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On vacation recently, our family took a Humvee tour through the dunes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By chance, Charlie got to sit in the front seat of the Humvee, across from the driver. He was delighted. Absolutely delighted. He also thought I had arranged it that way and I may have been slow to admit it was a happy accident. It was fun to be Charlie’s hero for a little bit.

He played it cool sitting in that front seat. Disguising his eagerness and excitement with a calm demeanor. He didn’t want the driver to know he was ecstatic. He’s maturing and changing. He’s ten after all.

Turning ten years old means you’ll have to hear more of Charlie’s delightful stories directly from Charlie now – not necessarily from me, not necessarily in this space. It’s time.

And, Charlie has plenty of his own tall tales to tell. He is full of adventure, that one. We should all wish to get to go along.