Catching Up

April 15, 2018

Dear You:

Long time, no talk! We totally need to catch up! How’d your last Lone Wolf Howling at the Moon tattoo sitting go? Did your cousin ever return your thigh-high boots? He’s not to be trusted, that one; you might need to swing by his cottage and riffle through his closet if you ever want to see those 24 inches of patent leather again. Oh, and I hope that one scabby spot on your elbow finally healed up real good-like! I swear, it looked like a miniature Rhode Island (haha: “miniature Rhode Island”…redundant much?) for so many weeks I was about to start digging for clams inside that thing.

Me? Oh, I’ve been great! We’re having our usual crazy April weather, and people are being their usual crazy selves, acting like they’ve never seen such a thing before. Sometimes, this time of year makes me feel desperate inside and as though I might need to start clawing at the skin just below my cheekbones, but for some reason it’s not bugging me this year. A mid-April blizzard just feels like a good excuse to keep a thick blanket on my lap, a huge pan of barssss in the kitchen, and three pairs of socks on my feet, and what’s bad about any of that? Don’t answer! Harhar!

Get this: I stayed up past 3:30 a.m. this morning watching the live stream from Coachella, and Beyonce was headlining. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you don’t get why she’s a thing, but we all have our failings, and that’s only one of your three thousand. Joking. GAWD, you’ve been so sensitive since Marla left. So what if she took the hand blender? You never made smoothies anyhow!! Anyhow, that Beyonce performance (SHUT UP AND JUST ACCEPT THAT FIVE BILLION PLANET EARTHERS MIGHT HAVE A POINT THAT SHE’S SOMETHING SPECIAL JEEEEEZUS YOU ARE SO HARD HEADED) was, like, huge. I won’t describe it too much cuz it’ll be wasted on you, but basically, she performed for two hours, sang more than 30 songs, and had multiple costume changes (Even you would have appreciated how hard she worked to keep her left boob hidden from the audience when the tape inside her costume started failing, threatening to unleash that flawless caramel orb to explore all kinds of public mischief. Did she miss even a single deep squat when Solange came out to dance with her? No, she did not. Did she hit every wa-wa knee bend exactly on the beat while clutching at her chest? Yes, she absolutely did. Did she prove that she is using the stage she has earned to pay homage to black culture and move some white people’s iggnrnt needles? Yes, yes, she did, and if you are unwilling to acknowledge the importance of Beyonce in a racist world, then I hope Marla comes back for your potato ricer.)

April 17, 2018

Sorry I got cut off mid-Beyonce rave the other day. I had to grade a few research proposals submitted by the messiest class I’ve seen in…hmmmm…carry the twelve…erase the seven…a heap of years. These tomfools started at mid-term in a compressed eight-week class, and every week since then, I have scratched my head and wondered, “What is up with this crew?” Like, you know how Marla used to make a big show about Wednesdays being Taco Night, and she’d sigh really loudly about how, as usual, she’d have to be the one to buy the groceries, and then, as usual, she’d be the one to brown the meat and shred the cheese and chop the iceberg? Remember all that ostentatious drama and then how Wednesday night would come, and there’d be no groceries bought, no food prepared? And you’d be all, “Hey, M, I kind of took it that you meant to make the tacos tonight. Did I misundersta–” And then she’d snip in and yell from under the afghan on the couch, “NO TACOS. NO DINNER. NOT HUNGRY.” And you’d be afraid to say anything because what can you say when someone’s all loud and put-upon and then they don’t even do the thing they were being loud and put-upon about, and you feel like you’re trying to show up but you’re kind of nervous because you don’t quite understand  the passive-aggressive complexity of the one who’s puffed up but not actually doing a single thing?

So this messy class is Marla on Taco Night. Get this: there were 25 students enrolled in the class at the start. The first week, for the introduction assignment, 13 of them participated. It’s an online class, so the only way I can get their attention is to rattle the grade book, post even more announcements, and send out emails. But, duh, like that doesn’t work when they aren’t looking at any of those things. By the second week, there were 11 students who turned in the assignment. My brain was all WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON? I teach this class all the time, exactly the same way, and pretty much most of the students get through in fine form. But this crop? These guys paid hundreds of dollars for this class, some of them taking out loans, of course, and yet they keep greeting every activity, every attempt to get their attention, with a shrug. The sheer WTF of this class has me confuddled. But then I got all sleuthy — you know how I still lose sleep over where in the fricking world Carmen Sandiego is — and realized more than half the students in that section are using Minnesota’s post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO) to earn college credits, which means the state pays for their tuition and books. Usually, PSEO students are all fired up and rad and stuff, but this particular messy section seems to have attracted a crew of ’em who can’t be bothered when it’s not making a dent in their fanny packs.

Yeah, so anyhow, as of today (two days shy of two years since Prince passed, kiss my ring and hold it to heaven), there are 18 students still on the roster — the rest withdrew or were dropped for non-attendance — and of those 18, only ten of them have a grade above a “D.”

I swear these studentios are in the grips of some magical-ass thinking that is telling them completing every third assignment is somehow going to tip a “C” their way. What bugs me the most is that I know, when reality comes over to roost on their chests, these some same students are going to believe their poor grades are my fault, and nothing is more exhausting than being held responsible for other people’s lack of effort. I’ma blame them for my shoddy housekeeping, if they come at me.

Honest to holy, pal, I know you thought Marla was a lot, but if you looked at this class each week, you’d be straight-up free-will handing her your spaetzle maker and telling her “Just take it. You ain’t so bad.”

April 19, 2018

Gawd, this puppy is getting long, and I know you hate having to flip the paper over to keep reading. I can just hear you now, hollering as you sit at that sticky Formica kitchen table: “Yer damn felt tip bled through, Jocey! You think I got time for deciphering this this fuckin’ mishmash?”

All right. All right. Just a couple more updates, and then I’ll leave you to dick around with your egg peeler, if you catch my drift. HARdeeHARHAR!!

So you know how I live in a city where we love snow, or else we should shut up and move? Part of my snow love relates to shoveling. Ahhhh, shoveling. It’s a beautiful therapy, that business of shussshing the blade under the flakes, scootching it along the ground, and then hoisting and tossing. With shoveling, there are clear parameters and clear ways of measuring achievement — kind of like how Marla would announce from her laid-back perch at the sticky Formica when you’d sliced enough potatoes on the mandoline?

The suck for me is that I did some hard shoveling a couple months ago during this one week when we got two feet of snow in the course of a couple of days. And since then, bud, I tell you: my left elbow is fucked up. Get this, though: Byron shoveled with me, and so did Allegra one day, and both of them experienced after-effects, too! Hold me close, young Tony Daaaaanza! (I know that was random, but it’s what I was feeling, so relax). Since the girl is young, her elbow bounced right back, but both Byron and I are still battling the pain of tennis “snow” elbow. Check this out: we can go to yoga and lower ourselves in chaturanga just fine, but if we want to, erm, freshen the air in the bathroom with some spray, pressing the button on the pump is excruciating. IT’S A FOREARM ISSUE, this elbow problem. 

It got so bad for me that I was going to order a brace or a strap. I even said “acupuncture” one time. But instead of spending money on something I just wanted to go away, I decided to punt. I remembered I have a bunch of compression socks I was using last year when my left heel was fucked up (note about aging: something will always be fucked up; if you’re lucky, it’s not the whole of you all at once), so I decided compression is compression, so why buy an elbow squeezer when I already have foot squeezers? The upshot is, dear Dickie, that I now spend my days with a sock on my arm, my elbow nestled into the heel section, and whaddya know the thing is actually feeling better by the day. BETTER LIVING THROUGH INVENTIVE PUNTING, SAYS I.

The nice deal about aging — there have to be silver linings when your body is always finding new ways to plague you, right? — is that I have, for a couple years now, been able to get to a mindset of “Howzabout instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I spend a little time enjoying what I CAN do? Howzabout that, O Noggin Fretter?” So my elbow squeals. But: I can still jump. And I do rewy, rewy love to jump. 

4/23/2018

Gad, how time whizzes! Here it is, more than a week later (Beyonce has already done her second amazing Beychella performance, with an even taller Nefertiti crown this time), and I’m still pecking away at this thing. Here I wanted to give you a bunch of recs for things I’ve been enjoying and talk up the mental diversions that give me solace in over-busy days. If I go on too much more, though, it will be another week before I send this. Soooo, quickly then: you really should listen to Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo — the story of a family of First Nation siblings that were taken from their mother during “The Scoop” in the 1960s in Canada, when the government went about fracturing indigenous families beyond the work it had already done for centuries. Young Cleo was adopted by an American family and rumored to have been raped and murdered when she was 13. Her siblings, with no idea where Cleo had been adopted to or what had really happened to her, ask a journalist at CBC to help track down the reality of their missing sister. All I’ll say is that I sat in a chair in our living room at 4:00 a.m., listening to the fourth episode, and there in the dark, I kept muttering, “Holy Shit.”

Also, I wanted to tell you to give the reboot of One Day at a Time a looksie. Listen, you crabass, just know you’ll have to relax into the live audience that feels like a cheesy laugh track, but once you give over, you will find yourself having a tv watching experience that makes you feel like you’re ten again, sitting on the shag carpet drinking Tang, watching any of the kabillion sitcoms that populated our youth. This reboot has been updated, and now it focuses on a Cuban-American family, covering issues that no other tv show has, as far as I’ve seen. It’s super charming, and every episode makes me cry in the best way. You know how Marla was a big effing Trumper and so it was a relief to watch her skitter off with your condiment gun because the news alone is hard enough these days without the negativity living in your house with you? Well, One Day at a Time is the best because it provides the feeling of a safe place in a nutty world.

Damn, I’m short on time again — have to get in the car and drive a few hours to a high school to do a site visit. Also, we had Allegra’s grad party this weekend (so many people and pancakes!), I got a Fulbright to teach in Belarus this fall (I. am. not. shitting. you.), and my most beloved friend Virginia has had her hospital bed moved into the living room so that she can rest in the light as she heads towards the light. She said the other day, “The boundaries between here and the beyond are erasing themselves,” and then she sent audio greetings to Allegra for her party in which she imparted a blessing upon the child who is about to head out into the world, reminding our girl that she, Virginia, was the first to see the top of Allegra’s head emerge from me when she was born. Then the 81-year-old in her last days told our 18-year-old who still has so many days in front of her, “I am holding you up to the face of God,” and every time I listen to her voice saying those words, I sob like you did when Marla bolted with your egg slicer.

Sorry this thing is kind of a sloppy mess. But, hey, that’s how I’m feeling, so suck it up, buttercup!

‘K bye!!

SWAK,

Jocey

If you care to share, click a square:

Butt Hurt: Tuesday, February 28

Gack! Here I’d hauled my cookies downtown and raced breathlessly into the lobby, readying myself for a much-needed yoga class, only to be greeted by a sign on the counter announcing a class cancellation. 

What made it worse was that I’d known the teacher couldn’t find a sub and there would be no class, but I’d totally forgotten — my brain full of Jessie Diggins, what to pack for 57-degree temperatures in Tennessee, grading drafts of research papers, and wondering why the city doesn’t crack down on off-leash dogs. 

Well, as long as I was ready to work out, I figured I might as well get return for effort and head upstairs to the Boot Camp class due to start in ten minutes. 

The Boot Camp class I hadn’t attended in more than a year.

The one that leaves me unable to climb stairs for three days afterwards unless I moan and pound my quads with every trudging step.

That one.

Fortunately, although the legendary teacher, Anna, mixes up the class regularly, I was still able to hang in there with all the stations ALTHOUGH FINE I WILL ADMIT I CHEATED DURING THE PLANK WALK EACH TIME BECAUSE I CAN ONLY INCH FORWARDS ON MY PALMS AND TOES THIRTY-ONE TIMES BEFORE MY LUNGS ARE IN MY THROAT SO THEN I HAVE TO STOP AND PRAY FOR A BIT TO THE GOD OF FLOORBOARDS.

But other than the plank walk and the open-mouthed scream lap around the track when I was yoked to a hyper-fit dude named Alex as he dragged my dead weight behind him at a speed faster than I’ve ever run before, I handled the hour.


Now it’s today.

The day after Boot Camp.

Friends, my ass is yappin’. 

I cannot sit, stand, squat, bend, lunge, or move a fingernail without oooooohhhhmaaaannnn. The only thing worse than the day after Boot Camp, in fact, is two days after Boot Camp, which means the oy-vey is getting worse by the hour. Do not tap me tomorrow, even lightly like a feather’s breath, or I might punch you by mistake. 

My ass hurt when I awoke and sat at the computer to grade student work; it yelped when I poached my morning egg; it hated me when I crouched next to drawers to paw for clothes; it yoiked when I climbed stairs to a classroom at the college where a candidate for a position in our department was about to present his teaching demonstration.

Seriously, it was noon, yet the crook of my rear felt 28 hours in.

But then. You guys. As I sat in the classroom, waiting to absorb the presentation of a guy who really wants a job, my glutes relaxed — perhaps to balance out the wild racing of my mind. See, the candidate, before he started explaining how he would teach the concept of “an essay” to developmental students, came around the room and shook everyone’s hand. When he got to me, I said my name, but even as I spoke, he was nodding and waiting, a comment prepared.

“Oh, I know you, Jocelyn. You were my teacher in 1997 at Riverland Community College; we read Memoirs of a Geisha…” — my Novels class! — “…and I still remember the attendance policy on your syllabus told us we could never miss a class for a Beavis & Butthead marathon, but it would be okay to miss if it was for a Ren & Stimpy marathon.”

How could an ass not go soft in the midst of such an unexpected, strangely delightful moment? How could a butt wallow in pain when an English teacher stood in front of an English teacher and connected their dots? Sitting there, shaking this guy’s hand, feeling life inchworm — tail end squinching up to meet the head — my below cheeks went slack as my facial cheeks flushed red. I wasn’t embarrassed, but something about a forgotten past manifesting into a very real present welled up me in a way that made my face red. Maybe it was because my dean and colleagues witnessed the exchange; maybe it was because I’d seen his name announced as a finalist and had a blip of “Do I know that name? Nah.” Maybe it was because his words took me back to a time when I felt more secure in the classroom than I do now, twenty-one years later when my cage has been rattled enough that its bars are less secure.

At any rate, I blushed fully while my tush became mush.

Ahhh, that felt good. For a full half hour as I listened to this fine young teacher explain himself, from the way he teaches essay writing to his personal disclosures about his father’s death, rebelling against his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, finding salvation in the classroom, my rear reveled. When he randomly interjected a quick quip about the way a colleague’s nephews used to call me “Batgirl,” my brain tripped down twelve different paths. At the same time, my hand wrote feedback about the teaching presentation.

And then it was over.

Buttocks re-tautened, I got in the car, left campus, and took myself out for some air at my favorite place to ski. The temperatures were warm, too warm really, but I wanted to unfurl fully into the lovely gift that is two feet of newly fallen snow. 

 

Getting out of the car taxed my ass, as did every two-inch movement necessary to put on boots, hat, coat, gloves, and skis — repeated again fifteen minutes later when I returned to swap out skis, from waxed to waxless, because this was a very clumpy day in the moods of snow.

I wanted to move my body to help the soreness recede for even an hour. I wanted to move my body so my brain could process the emotions of seeing, out of the blue, someone whose life I had impacted when I was 30 and he was 18, someone whose life had gone on to mimic my own. I wanted to move my body because every last thing on the planet feels better when I do. I wanted to move my body because doing so is a gratitude.

Most importantly, I wanted to move my body because I wanted to follow in the steps of someone who affected me during a formative time, wanted to practice the technique of someone whose abilities moved me, wanted to flex my ass in tribute to someone who showed me a new way of being: Johannes Klaebo, that gold-medal Norwegian who takes hills like he’s out for a run with skis on his feet.

My ass is yappin’.

My mind spirals repetitively through memory.

Somehow, the two are linked.


If you care to share, click a square:

Grad Present: Monday, February 26

And so today was lovely, a day full of hours with my daughter, a day when we laughed and were in sync, and it was all so much of everything good. There was no question I would write tonight about this day, even in limited fashion, because I want to remember it.

But to write about today fully and as it deserves, I need 10-15 hours of typing and deleting and thinking. From past experience, I know that.

If I want to dig in and hold it all up to the light, that takes time.

The threat of time being taken would keep me from the keyboard.

I will write what I can now, and maybe it will serve as an incubator for One Day. For when there are hours.

And so the thing about today is that it’s a great story of loving a teenager who is about to launch herself, and it’s a great story of pipping through various environments in tandem and with happiness, and it’s a great story of seeing the ways that my daughter and I may find our way in the world together even after we no longer share a house.

If we can always remember the ease, the joy, the boondoggle of driving around and hitting destinations together, then maybe in twenty years, it can still be this good.

Right now, as I envision a future where she’s grown and gone, being her own self, gaining perspectives that give her permission to chafe against who we’ve been to her, as I look at the detritus of some relationships in my own life that have pummeled deep into my gut the reality that the center does not necessarily hold, I can’t be so naive as to trust that we all will always be okay.

We should be okay.

But I will never trust it.

Then, now, as you’re reading and wondering about relationships in my life and either identifying with my fears or wanting to assure me it will all be okay, there is the fact that this is more than a story of a great day with my dear, dear, dear daughter.

I need another 10-15 hours to write the story of the first time I bought a backpack, a good chunk of time to unpack the weight of that experience — at the time merely a lovely day in a store with a boyfriend with whom I planned travels. It was important to get professionally fit for our packs; we would camp in Ireland, roughing it to prove to ourselves how real we were.

We went to Ireland. We took our packs. We never camped. 

I would always say to him, “I love you,” so he could reply, “I don’t think I love you.”

See, these stories take time.

I’m trying to write fast, daily, out of impulse, in the hopes of capturing moments that might otherwise fade into grey, the foggy horizon of disputed recounting.

And so today’s fast story is about backpacks. And my daughter. Not about the man I loved who didn’t love me for 12% of my life.

Allegra is 17, and perhaps it is boring for you to read again about her glories, but I will tell you again: she graduated high school early, after last semester of doing all college work at the local university, and she works two jobs to save money for three months of travel before she starts college in the fall. She handles her own business, loves color-coding, and, at the same time, doesn’t know how to answer questions about a potential college major because everything is still too unknown. She makes me laugh; she has questions; she will spot your weakness in under an hour.

To celebrate her graduation, we told her we’d buy her a bag.

She wants a backpack — something we can bring to her, already packed, when we meet up with her during her travels. Alone, to Turkey and Montenegro, she will carry a different bag. For Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia, we will be with her. When we see her, we will hand her a prepared backpack —

a bag for when we fly home and she takes off to hike in Scotland with friends, then to Iceland to meet another friend.

And so we are gifting her with a backpack, which feels so right for who she is and where she’s going.

Today was backpack day. Byron had to work, but Allegra and I had some rare open hours together. Naturally, she had done her research, knew what she wanted, and realized it would be best to actually try packs on rather than ordering blindly online. It’s also nice to hand money to a real person in the place where you live. 

We went to the store. Talked to the guy. His name was Pat. He grew up in western Wisconsin. His street hasn’t been plowed yet since the latest 8″ fell. He likes trekking poles. 

With great competence, Pat outfitted Allegra in several Osprey packs (I have an Osprey backpack. I bought it during the 12% of my life when I wasn’t loved but wanted to camp to prove how real we were.). He weighted them, adjusted them, helped her tighten the straps, explained the trampoline mesh against her back.  

And so, patiently, and with an acceptance I never experienced during six years with that man in my twenties, Pat allowed — urged — Allegra to try, consider, step back, re-try, walk around, read her own reactions. Refusing apology for taking so much of his time, he exclaimed, “This is the fun part!”

I’m shifting verb tenses now. I’m not putting 10 hours into this thing, but I am taking time to make that choice.

The store is hot. I’m just standing there, leaning on a counter, asking questions, but I’m sweating. With a counter between us, I can see what’s going on with Allegra better. So we have space, and I am sweating. Is this a harbinger of the rest of life for us?

Is maybe all of life about sweating and space? Is that how it will always be for us, whoever the “us” in question is?

And so I’m leaning onto my elbows on a glass counter that creaks like it’s splintering every time I shift, and Pat is in it with us for the long haul, and Allegra’s trying on her fourth pack. We’ve moved away from the initial idea of Osprey packs, which are the best-selling brand in the U.S., and now she’s trying Deuter packs, which are the best-selling backpacks in the rest of the world. Yup, fit is good. Yup, feels good. But.

She puts on the previous pack again, walks around for a bit. Switches again to the other. Walks some more. This one? That one? Hmmmm. How to know which one is best?

Eventually, it becomes clear: THIS one feels the most right. This is the right one.

So we buy a Deuter, the newest model, and I don’t cry even though this purchase feels like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that starts “I got unexpectedly pregnant after I’d camped in Iceland — because my body had been exposed to around-the-clock light, and even though it seemed impossible for me to get pregnant because my period had ended two days before, I did get pregnant the night your dad, the right one, proposed, and when we found out you were coming, we changed the date of our wedding, and then right before the wedding, I had a miscarriage, and we cried for days, and then we went to the hospital and found out there was still a YOU in there even though your twin was gone, and then my water broke during a Creation vs. Evolution debate, and bam you came, and I cried in the garage when we brought you home from the hospital — my mom, standing by us out there next to the car, wondered why I was crying — and then you had colic, and I held your dad’s hand in the living room and cried some more and wailed ‘I don’t know how I can make it six more weeks,’ and ten months later I shoveled the driveway with you strapped into a pack on my back, and the whole time I sweated and threw snow to create space, I could feel your tiny, gentle hands pulling at strands of my hair as we sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ together, and now today I was shoveling by myself, trying to get my car in from the alley after the snowplow went through, and you looked out the bathroom window and saw me, and then I heard your voice calling ‘Do you need some help?’, and suddenly you were next to me, halving the task, humming happily even when we had to take off our coats because carving space is sweaty work…”

I’m shifting person now. It takes time to keep “you” as the audience when I’ve decided I want “you” to be my daughter.

And so we checked out today after Pat helped us for so long, buying you a backpack as a graduation gift to help launch you into the world. You went with a Deuter pack, so now you are the Deuter Daughter.

This summer, I will bring this backpack to you before you fly to Scotland to meet friends, and I won’t cry because I am so happy for who you are.

But when we part, after hugging you at the airport, as I watch you head one direction while I head another, I will reach for your dad’s hand — he’s not the man I bought an Osprey pack with during 12% of my life when I wasn’t loved; no, he’s the right one — and we will hang onto each other as we watch you walk away from us, down a long corridor, all on your own.

And really, honestly, I promise you: I’ll try not to cry.

But there will never be a day for the rest of my life when I don’t feel the shadow memory of your tiny hands pulling at the strands of my hair.

——————————————-

If you care to share, click a square:

Foiled One: Sunday, February 25

Perkily, she greets him. “Hi, Haakon!”

As is his way, he extends a quiet hello.

Then, at loose ends for the few minutes until class starts, she notices someone else she can greet.

“Are you Haakon’s mom?” she asks, extending her hand towards me. As I nod, she adds, “I’m Mrs. Rebecca King.” We shake hands.

Mrs. Rebecca King! So the giggly, bouncy, upbeat, prone-to-yelping, always-bringing-the-fun lady in Paco’s fencing class has a name? And it’s not “Caitlyn Marie”?

Now this is interesting.

I’ve always liked that she’s in the class, one of the few females, definitely the only one who doesn’t read manga, for her energy is a perfect counterpoint to the male “I love weaponry” ponytailed vibe of the rest of the participants. Even more, I’ve always been glad when she and Paco are partners in a bout; he relaxes with her because she’s chatty and so clearly having a good time. When they are facing off, he smiles and talks during the lulls.

You make my beloved kid smile and talk, you are my very special Mrs. Rebecca King forever.

I like her even more once the introductions are over — because what she wants to say is “Haakon is such a nice boy” and “He is so polite” and “He’s a gentle giant. I actually have to tell him ‘It’s okay. You can stab Mrs. King!'”

Why, thank you for the nice words about my kid, Mrs. Rebecca King. Do you perhaps need a kidney? A piggyback out to your car after class? A pair of matching French braids woven into your hair by freckled hands?

In return, I tell her the things I’ve long thought: that she brings great energy to the third floor of the YMCA every Sunday afternoon and changes the feel of the whole class, that I’m always so happy when she and Paco are paired off, that she has a gift of sunshine.

Life policy: say the nice things out loud to the people. The potential effects are boundless.

As we continue to talk, I learn that this slip of a woman is mother to five children, all grown and gone. My astonished reaction is genuine. Seriously, Mrs. Rebecca King is built like a figure skater working on her triple loop, and she appears to be about 31. When I tell her this, she tries to shuck off my observations as thin compliments, but I’m serious. If quizzed, I would have written in ink that I believe she’s 31.

Clearly, upbeat energy keeps skin unlined and eyes bright.

So her kids range in age from 26 down to 19, which means she bore five kids in seven years. Yes, it was crazy, she assures me, but now that they’re gone, she misses it — even though having gotten through the intense years of motherhood means “I eat sometimes now…and I get to do things like taking fencing!”

When I ask her how she came to enroll in fencing classes, her answer, as with everything about her, is easy. “I just always wanted to. Always. And now I can. The only people in my life who were surprised when I announced I had signed up were my mom and brother. Everybody else saw it coming.”

It’s almost time for her to go out onto the wooden floor and start warming up with footwork, almost time for me to start running on the track that loops the wooden floor. But first, she wants to tell me where her kids and their spouses live — from Alaska to Ohio — and I want Byron, who’s just arrived, to say hi.

The rhythm changes. We are almost done, and the introduction of new information is replaced by reiterations of previous niceties. At some point as we wind down, Mrs. Rebecca King says, referring to herself, “Hey, not bad for an Amish lady, right?”

And then she’s gone, in her white jacket with the strap laced between her legs, with her slightly wild hair springing until her face mask tames it, having skipped out to the middle of the wooden floor.

Twenty feet away, I tuck in my earbuds and fire up a podcast. We had a quick moment, we two moms on the third floor, but now we each focus on our own business.

For the next hour, I run, and I run, and I run, circling the clanking foils, circumscribing the changing pairings of the fencers, drawing a line with my feet around their thrusts and parries. I move my body, grin at my husband, answer a few messages, listen to stories, and think, my brain circling and circumscribing and drawing lines:

“Excuse me. An Amish lady?”

After class, I ask Byron what he thinks, and he posits she’s more a Mennonite or some other offshoot that isn’t quite Amish but is still “sect-ular” in nature. He’s noticed previously that sometimes a couple younger girls in slightly old-fashioned dresses, tights, and shoes accompany Mrs. Rebecca King, sitting on chairs during class and looking at their phones. Paco knows that she’s a teacher at a Christian school. But still my brain circles.

Life policy: say the questions out loud to the people. The potential effects are boundless.

Thus, by the end of the hour, I have readied myself to approach her again and say, “I just have to ask: you were sort of joking earlier when you said you are an Amish lady, but you sort of weren’t. Do you mind if I ask about that?”

But I’m out of luck.

Mrs. Rebecca King changes into her winter wear while talking to a teenage boy from the class; their conversation is intent, and she moves rapidly as she buttons her coat. She dashes — always, she dashes! — to the top of the staircase, and before she starts pattering down, the boy calls out to her: “God be with you.”

“And God be with you,” she replies to the round-faced red-head whose brothers and pastor father are packing up their gear nearby.

They are Godsmacked, and I am gobsmacked. Are we the only heathens in the fencing mix? Did we stumble into a homeschooling extracurricular? Should these Good People be stabbing each other on a Sunday? Have I ever in the past year dropped a 20-pound weight on my foot while doing bicep curls and inadvertently yelled “FUCK”? Do I owe anyone an apology? Should I follow my impulses in this moment and dodge over to Mrs. Rebecca King to say, “My regrets if I’ve ever yelled a swearsie, and do you have a bonnet with dangling strings?”

Ah, but she’s gone, Mrs. Rebecca King is, gone down the stairs, gear tucked into her arms, coat buttons askew, hair flying. She missed class last week because she lives “due north,” out in the country, and her husband hadn’t plowed them out in time for her to get into town. This week, she had him prepared and on the job: she wanted to go to her fencing class. Good as his word, the father of her five children cleared the snow so she could get out —

his wife, that mother, this yelping, happy foil-wielder–

so she could attend her class —

the class she always wanted to take —

from the time she was a young girl until now, when she looks 31 —

and all along the way, it appears one thing about this open, light-hearted woman has always been true:

God has been with her.


If you care to share, click a square:

Seven Goods: Saturday, February 24

Things Farmers Like About February

My sister-in-law, Erin, her husband, Ben, and their daughter, Allia, live on and run an organic farm in central Minnesota — selling Community Supported Agriculture shares to people in their community, providing vegetables to local colleges and Twin Cities’ school districts, and committing their values to their daily work.

And it’s hard work, this business of raising food with a brave spirit of entrepreneurship. The rhythms of their lives are dictated by the seasons, with heartbreak as likely as success. 

As they visit us this weekend, I asked if they could articulate the best things about being farmers when it comes to a month like February, a time of year that can feel dark, dull, and eternal. 

  1. They love having more time — for things like yoga, reading, and playing. Time to just BE with each other is golden.
  2. Erin really appreciates having psychic and emotional space from deadlines.
  3. Allia likes that since they have land, they have some small hills that were really fun for sledding this time of year when she was younger. Now that she’s 7, though, they need go go off the farm to find hills that are exciting.
  4. Ben loves February for skiing and chickadees and super-warm sun.
  5. Erin enjoys this time of year because it’s when she can actually reach the end of her to-do lists. Allia comments, “You always have lists, Mama.”
  6. The whole family appreciates this time of year because, as Allia notes, “Papa is around more,” and she loves doing bed tricks and tickle time games where she lays down on top of her dad, and together they create lifts and postures — sometimes he does her hair while she dangles upside down from his feet.
  7. And finally, both Ben and Erin acknowledge that February is the time of year when they are rejuvenated enough to get ambitious. For vegetable growers, no matter how busy or crazy the year has been, by February they have a new idea that they would have said “NO!” to in November. For them this year, that means they’ve just decided to go ahead and grow 4,000 more pounds of cantaloupes this year.


If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Friday, February 23

Things Virginia Has Written on Slips of Paper and Dropped into the Gratitude Bowl in the Narthex of the Congregational Church

My dear friend Virginia has jotted down her thanks for these humble things:

1. See-through plastic bags — she can see what’s in them without taking things apart and doesn’t have to empty the contents just to find out it’s not what she’s looking for

2. Bendy straws — try drinking with a regular straw if you’re bedridden

3. The natural colors of our environment — she is so glad grass is green, not blue, so glad the sky is blue, not pink, and so happy water has no color when it could be yellow — and that it’s not sticky

4. Nose Hairs – after she lost her hair from chemo, one day she saw sun shine at about 4 p.m. onto her dark wood floors; in that moment, she saw motes floating around and landing onto their floors, and she realized that these are in the air that we breath, that with every intake, we are inhaling these motes, that they are going into our lungs where they can cause no end of problems. With her domestic world thusly illuminated, Virginia appreciated very deeply it’s the nose hairs that filter the motes. Now, with gratitude in her heart, she calls them the Divine Sifters

5. Not yet submitted for fear of giving offense — pantyliners


What would you write down and put into the Gratitude Bowl in the narthex?

If you care to share, click a square:

One and Forever: Thursday, February 22

It’s a candy cigarette, so calm your tits.

It matters to this story that dusk is creeping around the edges, and thick, quiet snow is falling slowly, slowly from the sky, accumulating into a desert of white dunes outside the large picture window behind my back.

She’s talking, my great pal Virginia is, as she lies on the couch to my left, her feet elevated to help the fluids drain from her leg that swells each day from edema caused by the tumor that has inhabited in her pelvis for twenty years. Every day, to get through the day, her slight body is mobbed, swabbed, bundled, padded, and hooked — with nephrostomy tubes and bags, an under-skin pain pump the size of a hockey puck, gauze, tape, hooks, back-up systems. She is swaddled by the accoutrements of unbudgeable cancer, living graciously and gratefully in constant pain.

Very few people live an example.

Virginia lives an example.

Despite the lashings of medical equipment that snake beneath her clothes, Virginia’s brain roams wide and free. I’m taking trips with her brain now, as she talks over there on the couch, because we are catching stories for her next book, trying to capture them before she has a colostomy in a couple weeks, the next procedure aimed at improving quality of life. Writing is difficult business when sitting is often impossible, but if she can lie with her legs up, she can talk, and I can type.

So far, she’s told me seven-and-a-half stories — five of them about a neighbor boy she fostered, one about injustice on the playground, another about a woman on a park bench in Germany,. By way of a breather, we’ve let ourselves get derailed from a story about the day she met her future in-laws after I’ve asked some follow-up questions.

 

Now we’re talking about Richard, the youngest of her four brothers, the one I sometimes forget about because he was gone before I met her.

She was a senior in high school when he was born, but despite — maybe because of — that age difference, they felt a genuine connection. He loved writing, wanted to get into film, got a job with a kind of documentary company that at some point did a commercial involving a wallaby and luggage. Virginia remembers being so envious that Richard got to be on set with a wallaby, and she didn’t.

Not too long after Virginia returned home from a trip to Europe, her brother Dan called her to tell her that Richard, then 26, had been driving to Jackson Hole from Minnesota with a friend, for a vacation. Near Billings, in central Montana, Richard fell asleep at the wheel, and then awakening with a jolt, he over-corrected, and the car flipped and rolled into a ditch. With no seat belt on, he was thrown from the car and died within three minutes. His friend lived.

Later, after the immediate worst of it, after an undertaker named Mr. Graves readied Richard for permanent rest, Virginia awoke in the night, her heart racing. Panicked by the atrial fibrillation, she went to the emergency room, clutching her chest, and told the doctor, “It feels like my heart is broken.”

It was.

After Richard’s death, as his mother and siblings sifted through his belongings, Virginia claimed some treasures to keep her brother close: a pottery serving bowl which she had gifted to him, reclaimed now; a pair of his wool socks, eventually worn to nubs; a blue-and-green plaid flannel shirt, also worn to threads, and his belt, which became her default belt, her go-to, the only one she has worn now, as her own life winds down, these past two years.

Thirty-seven years have passed since Richard died, and his belt is with her as she dies by millimeters.

And so it matters to this story that darkness filters through the glass, soft snow sifts to blanket the ice-locked ground.


If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Wednesday, February 21

Five Things about Countries Beginning with “E” that Allegra Told Us During a Car Ride to a Race in Wisconsin:
She Was Reading from One of Her Beloved Travel Books, Both of Which She Bought with a Barnes & Noble Gift Card from Byron’s Great-Uncle


1. One of Egypt’s trademarks is incessant honking
2. Egypt is the driest country in Africa
3. In El Salvador, there’s a town named Alegria
4. In Estonia, there’s a sport called “kiiking” which has people standing on a swing and attempting to make a full 360-degree loop
5. Ethiopia sounds interesting (her personal opinion) because it has churches and crocodiles

Now, what travel fun fact can you tell our girl who is thirsty to know it all and who is, not incidentally, as cute as a baby Adélie penguin (which breed from October to February on shores around the Antarctic continent and build rough nests of stones)?

If you care to share, click a square:

A Lifetime in Twenty-Seven Minutes: Monday, February 20

The letter sat on the kitchen counter for a few days, a visual reminder to call the insurance company and find out if I am covered for this new 3D mammography.

It also sat there for a few days as I calmed the impulse to mark the thing up — “The third sentence here is a comma splice because you’ve hung two independent clauses together with only a comma, which isn’t a strong enough form of punctuation. Yes, I realize you get confused when there’s a conjunctive adverb like ‘however’ in the middle, but you are a major hospital, a professional organization, so try hiring someone who states in his interview, ‘I have a real passion for knowing a complete sentence when I see one, ‘k? AND AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU HERE, YOU NEED TO STOP USING TWO SPACES AFTER A PERIOD BECAUSE THE ERA OF MONOTYPE IS WELL AND OVER. LET ME WELCOME YOU TO 2018, A TIME WHEN PEOPLE BOTHER THEMSELVES TO RETRAIN MUSCULAR MEMORY.”

It also also sat there for a few days because I needed to get elbow-deep in chocolate for a good long while before I could place a phone call to an insurance company.

But finally, it was time. I wanted to get the appointment set, so, my mood stabilized by a square of Trader Joe’s Swiss Dark Chocolate Bar with Whole Hazelnuts, I grabbed the handset for the landline, squinted intensely at the tiny print on the back of my insurance card, and dialed the number for Customer Service.

Four seconds later, rattled, I reactively hurled the handset across the stovetop when the automated woman’s voice shouted into my ear.

Why ya gotta be so fricking loud, Automated Voice? Jeezus.

Scrambling to get the phone back in hand, lest I miss a command, I heard the tail end of Loud Lady’s first request. I needed to verbally identify the role I occupy as a caller: policy holder, family member, medical institution, frazzled wincer, joyful prancer, or unhinged tweeter. 

“Policy holder,” I enunciated carefully.

“I heard you say” — Loud Lady caught a mechanical breath — “policy holder. Is this correct?”

“YES.” I wasn’t a good little girl all through elementary school for nothing. 

Next, I told Loud Lady my name, gave her my policy number minus any letters, clued her into my birth date HEY DOLL GIMME A SHOUT COME MARCH 25TH, and then, just when I thought I was coasting smoothly towards connection with a human being, LL got assertive and asked me to state my reason for calling: “For example, you can say ‘Benefits.’ Or you can say ‘Coverage.'” 

Uh, LL? Could I have a few more options, maybe one that uses the words “mammogram” and “3D”?

Flummoxed, quivery under pressure, I gulped out “Coverage!”

“I heard you say ‘Coverage,'” bitch told me. “Is that correct?”

“YES, BITCH, YES,” I confirmed.

“I heard you call me ‘Bitch,'” LL charged. “Is that correct?”

Oy. If LL wasn’t in my corner, I’d never find out if she’d pay for photos revealing heretofore obscured nooks and crannies of my breastuals. Softening my tone, I responded. “No, that is not correct. You heard me say ‘bewitch’ because that’s what your voice does to me, loud lady whom I am going to call Mavis! I said BE-WITCH.”

Mavis was one unforgiving robotic bitch. 

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Please state the purpose of your call or say the words ‘Main Menu.'” 

Exasperated, busted, ready for a complete reset, I wheezed: “Main Menu.”

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you,” Mavis intoned dispassionately. 

“MAIN MENU, for fuck’s sake!”

“I’m sorry. I heard you say ‘for fuck’s sake.’ Is that correct?”


Some minutes later, after a weepy apology and an order of Shari’s Berries sent directly to Mavis’ Inbox, I was returned to the Main Menu.

“Please state your role as a caller: policy holder, family member, medical institution, dog-housed swearer, revved-up carer, double-dog darer…”

“Policy holder!” I interrupted Mavis’ recitation.

“I heard ‘Other.’ Is that correct?”

“No. Paaawwwwlllissssyy hoooollldddderrr.”

A supressed giggle in her voice, Mavis asked, “I heard ‘Family Member.’ Is that correct?”

“No. Pol. icy. Hol. Der.”

Dickin’ around with me must have been getting boring, for Mavis heard me correctly that time and moved to the next steps in the script. I stated my policy number, all 15 digits of it, leaving out the letters. I told her my birth date HEY HARRIDAN MAYBE DON’T GIMME A SHOUT COME MARCH 25TH, and then, dammit, she asked me to state my reason for calling. “For example, you can say ‘Benefits.’ Or you can say ‘Coverage.'”

Those were just two examples, right? She had to be programmed to accept responses other than those two. Maybe I’d failed last time because I got scared. Maybe this whole thing was as easy as me actually stating the reason for my call.

Digging deep into to my solar plexus for courage, I articulated carefully and prayed to the ceiling: “Does my policy cover 3D mammograms?

For a second — a long second — a second packed with potential and hope — there was silence. And then. Her voice, thick-sounding for some reason — WAS SHE CHEWING AN OVERSIZE CHOCOLATE-COVERED STRAWBERRY?? — responded.

“I’m sorry. That is not a valid request. Good-bye.”

What?? Good-bye? Stunned, I stood motionless, staring at the blur of my insurance card. Just like that? She was gone? What happened to the second chances promised by Main Menu? What about our history together? What about the times I’d read my policy number, without letters, to her? Did it all mean nothing?

Dejected, defeated, discouraged — my spirit teeming with “D” words — I set the handset onto the counter, slid the laminated insurance card towards my wallet, and laid my forehead onto the butcher block. All I’d wanted was to talk to a real person to ask a straightforward question.

Actually, that wasn’t true. I hadn’t wanted to call in the first place, and I didn’t want to have to ask if I was eligible for the best-possible care. I’m a fair bit of a socialist even on my most-conservative days, so my vision of health care is one where it’s a given that every citizen is equally covered by modern medicine’s umbrella, and also, I’m locked into spiraling distress about half our country’s blind devotion to guns over kids, and one other thing, Mavis, you loud-mouthed dominatrix, I needed you not to hang up on me today because gerrymandering border wall sex trafficking planned parenthood funding net neutrality rohingya genocide

and what if I had been calling with a mental health question, Mavis? What if I’d been teetering on an edge, yet all you cared about was stuffing another berry into your mouth, you flimsy instrument of mechanized compassion?

Wow. I was never going to get a mammogram at this rate, and I always get a mammogram. Because, see, I was born from an amniotic sac loaded with luck. So I get to be someone who has a yearly mammogram, someone who has the option to get a 3D mammogram, someone who has a kitchen and a phone and a counter. 

My forehead still supporting the weight of my psyche, I tried to regroup — to stop feeling so overwhelmed by Mavis and all the ills of the world that I froze, passive, into a stance of inaction. 

Then, opening my eyes, I saw them. Hanging there. Dangling from my ribcage, winking at the floorboards. 

My breasts.

Oh, yeah. That’s what this was about. Making sure my body isn’t currently tracking the same direction as my grandma’s, my great-aunt’s, those women who came before me. Right-o. 

Straightening my spine, I pulled my shoulder blades back and looked down at the weighted flesh of my chest, the two skin sacks my lifelong companions, and remembered: I gotta be okay if I want to help anything else be okay.

Grabbing the handset once again, I picked up the insurance card. Squinting at the tiny numbers for Customer Service, I punched them in. As the line began to ring, I moved the receiver away from my ear BECAUSE THAT MAVIS, SHE’S A SHOUTER. 

One ring.

Two.

And just before the third, I heard a voice

a real voice —

belonging to a real woman —

and she wondered how she could help me.


If you care to share, click a square:

400 Noodles and Four Hours: Monday, February 19

I knew it was coming, so I’d had a couple days to brace myself.

Mostly, my strategy was to hide upstairs, answer the occasional question, and deliberately pour my soul into a zen acceptance of chaos.

Actually, now that I reread that previous sentence, I think I might ask Byron to stitch a version of it into a sampler with the heading “Tips for Parenting Teens.”

So I knew Allegra and two friends had decided to make dinner at our house Sunday night and that our girl would be calling me after she was done with work and when they got to the grocery store, to ask about items we might already have in stock at the house. Because she is well raised, it was a text, not a call, that came through first. Cake pans. Eggs. Spinach. Tomatoes, Beets. Well, this sounded promising. I knew the plan was to make tricolor pasta from scratch, but BEETS? Nice, ladies. Nice.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was Leggy. Stabbing wildly at the screen, I managed to refuse her call as I tried to answer it. Calling her back, I opened with, “So, yeah, I have no idea how to answer my phone. Like, truly. I was trying to answer it. As of tonight, my record for failing to answer all calls is intact.”

Oh, she felt me. Why should anyone know how to answer a phone when phone calls are the devil’s work? We shared a silent moment of mutual understanding that felt like a warm hug. Phone calls. Fuck ’em.

Anyhow, did we have cocoa? 

And so it went. A short time later, I heard the girls come into the house, a rustle of bags and giggles in the kitchen. Adhering to my planned strategy, I stayed upstairs and let them figure themselves out.

Except, then, after a relatively quiet twenty minutes, the top of Allegra’s head rose on the staircase. “Where’s the pasta maker?” In the basement pantry.

Some bit later, I heard the squeaky crank of the pasta maker’s handle. Dang, but something in me is wired towards squeaky cranks (see: the boyfriend of my twenties). I wanted to go down. Take a peek at how it was going. Watch them crank. But nah. If this was their deal, it should be their deal. 

As I kept myself busy at the computer instead of tromping down to ask dull questions and provide overly perky commentary to their actions, I thought about the teenagery-ness of wanting to make three different pastas from scratch when those same chefs had never, say, made spaghetti from a box and red sauce out of a jar all on their own. Although I had tried earlier to suggest there’s no pride lost in opening a box of noodles, my words fell on 17-year-old ears. “But we want to make it from scratch, and we want three colors! Also, we want to make a cake!” From a mix? “From scratch!”

I commend the attitude and the values behind thoughtful, non-instant cooking. Yet, at the same time, I was amused by the desire to take on big goals before mastering smaller building blocks. Although I was chuckling at their ambition, I admired them for it — ah, that glorious stretch of years when anything seems possible because everything is still possible, so why not go big? That confident mindset is something that life’s vagaries can erode; no need for me to act as an instrument of deflation. Hell, when I was about 15, having never before cooked a reasonable pan of brownies, I told my mom I wanted to make a Baked Alaska because I couldn’t believe ice cream could go in the oven. To her eternal credit, my mom’s answer was, “Let’s do it.”

Baked Alaska is really cool, y’all. I haven’t made it since I was 15. But I know it’s cool because I lived in a house where ideas were welcome. 

In addition to confidence and ambition, these teen girls have humor. When Allegra first announced they would be making dinner, she laughed when I replied, “So we should plan on eating around 10, then?” 

“Well, last time we did this, it did take us five hours, so yeah, it will be late. You should make some eggs for Paco so he doesn’t get crabby,” she nodded. “But, I mean, last time we did make homemade fettucine and sauce and noodles and soup and salad and bread and pie, so it was understandable that it took us five hours.”

Please, for the love of James Beard, girls, stick to tricolor pasta and a cake. Don’t go getting notions about a protein, I prayed.

In the kitchen, the squeaks and shouts continued. Then, through the banister railings, Allegra’s head rose again. “Do we have more flour?” Yes, downstairs in the basement pantry, by the Fischer-Price village.

Although I’d been following my strategies like a boss, a look at the screen told me it was Shot of Scotch O’Clock. Could I maybe contribute to the evening’s memories by being the mom who only showed her face when in search of booze?

Bravely, I headed down.

Well, now. Things were happening. Allegra was separating threads of tomato noodles while Natalie worked spinach dough through the machine. Elizabeth was on frosting duty, except

“Mom, do we have more butter somewhere?”

Yes, down in the basement in the freezer. Here, let me get it.

A moment later, a pound of frozen butter in hand, I suggested they might want to soften a stick in the microwave on low power — or, alternately, “Jam it into your armpit, honey.” 

“Hey,” Allegra said. “That’s what I did earlier, and it worked great!”

Leaving them to the softening, I headed upstairs.

Forty-five minutes later, the pasta maker still cranking, I decided a glass of wine might be in order, what with dinner being a distant hope. This time when I got to the kitchen, Natalie decided her arm was tired, so Allegra took over; in return, Natalie tucked the stick of butter under the front of her shirt, nesting it at her waistline. Within minutes, her chi had made the stuff malleable. In one corner, beet pasta covered the counter. In another, chocolate frosting came to life. Duties were traded and handed off, and somehow, synergistically, the food was happening.


Back upstairs, I recalled the time my sister, some other neighbor girls, and I decided to make a special summer lunch for some of the neighborhood boys. After finding them at Mike’s house, we told them to come to our house in an hour for some good food. Minutes later, having scrambled down the hill into our kitchen, we had water boiling for a box of mac ‘n cheese and a pan heating for hamburgers.

Mostly what I remember about that afternoon with “strange” boys sitting at our dining room table is that I felt special — that we girls had presented ourselves as capable and domestic…in some bizarre hope of gaining a boyfriend? — that our efforts proved our value.

Because life is beautiful, a dynamic thing allowing for change and growth, I would, thirty-odd years later, accept a social media friend request from the lead boy on Hamburger Day and then, less than a week later, unfriend him, thinking, “I can’t stand you, and I can’t see why I need to pretend otherwise.”

Eventually, Allegra’s voice rose up the staircase again, this time with welcome news, especially for her brother who had been on a school bus at 6:45 a.m. that morning, heading to a robotics meet in another city. Even though he was dubious about the potential of tricolor pasta, he was, at 10:30 p.m., both hungry and ready to sleep. 

“The pasta’s ready!”

Whew.

“Stay on your bed, kid,” I told Paco. “I’ll bring you a small bowl, and if you like it, you can have more.”

By the time I got to the kitchen, the girls were loading bowls for themselves, apologizing about the noodles (“They just taste like pasta, not like spinach or beets or tomatoes”); apologizing about the sauce, which they had made up once they realized they were missing Alfredo ingredients and had refused my offer of a frozen red sauce (“It’s kind of, um, weird. We just put Parmesan, butter, cream, and some leftover tomatoes together”); exclaiming about how much pasta they’d made when I told them I could boil up some more if they wanted to finish what was in the pot (their idea of “a lot of pasta” was modest); wondering where they should eat (the kitchen being inhospitable due to every possible dish and utensil having been used during the cooking, the dining room table full of Paco’s toothpick bridge he’s making for science class); and thinking it could be good to watch some DVR-ed Olympic skiing while they ate.


After a quick primer on how to navigate through Hulu using our Fire stick remote, I left them to enjoy their tiny bowls of noodles, big pieces of cake, and admiration of the skills required by biathlon. Back in the kitchen, I tried to keep my sigh inaudible. They. had. trashed. the. place.

I had known it would be a mess, but they had exceeded my expectations. Were I a set designer for a sitcom, and were it my job to stage a helter-skelter kitchen scene because — haha! — Dad had tried to cook, I could not have come up with what these three high school girls accomplished organically.


They had noticed the mess. They had said they’d clean up. They needed to be the ones who cleaned up.

But still. As long as I was there, before I scooped noodles for the boy and me, I just had to put a twist tie on that open bag of confectioner’s sugar, tuck it into the drawer, put those oven mitts away, collect the five empty butter wrappers, and stick the flour container back in its nook.

There. I did ten things. The rest was up to the girls.

From the next room, the easy, happy energy of three young women — longtime teammates — watching skiing and eating food they had made “just because” washed into the kitchen. I tucked and threw and stuck, and I was hungry, and I was afraid of the clean-up they would do, but, oh, I felt complete.

In every dream of my future back before I knew the shape my life would take, the kitchen was filled with light and noise, filled with the cacophony of friends coming together around food and communal creation.

As I walked up the stairs with pasta and cake ready to hand to the sleepy 15-year-old, I thought about my childhood friend, Lisa. She lived next door and was a constant playmate and companion, often staying with our family when her parents would take junkets to Vegas to gamble. Even as adolescents, Lisa and I would sleep head-to-foot on my waterbed, and during the days when we were hungry, and there were no moms around to feed us, we would make our favorite snack.

Pouring one cup of white rice into a pot, followed by two cups of water, we’d count down the twenty minutes until we could pull our snack of cooked fluff off the electric burner. Setting it on the floor in the middle of the kitchen — a dishtowel folded beneath it to keep the rug from melting — we’d add chunks of butter and generous shakes of salt to our work.

Then, leaning our heads over the pot, foreheads knocking, we’d dig our forks into the mounds of white grains, murmuring “Yummmm” to each other until the whole thing was gone.

All they did was take a notion to make a meal together.

What they achieved was so much more.

If you care to share, click a square: