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Twelve Days of Summer

Twelve Days of Summer with My Twelve-Year-Old: DAY TWO

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On the second day of Summer(mas), my middle schooler gave to me: commentary on two purple gloves

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There’s always laundry to do.

At least in the summer, there’s less washing of fleece and wool and more washing of clothing lacking sleeves or full legs of fabric. Then again, there are more visitors during the summer, which means more sheets and towels being used. No matter the season, each week’s mound of dirties is bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a house.

My Method of Operation with dirty clothes is to wash and dry a bunch of loads over the weekend and then set aside some time on Monday evenings to stand in our bedroom and fold for an hour or so.

I rather enjoy it, to be honest.

Some years ago, when I was kvetching about how much I hate washing dishes, my mother-in-law noted, “So it’s not a zen experience for you, huh? I find dish washing calming.” Folding laundry is my dish washing–the household chore with deliberate rhythms and practices that makes me feel lighter by the time I’m done.

Don’t get me wrong: I still hate laundry on a fundamental level. As a rule, I’m better at the things in life that require getting on an airplane and winging off into New Vistas than I am at facing a predictable task repeatedly. I like Different. I like Unknown. I like Variety. I like Someone Else To Do The Dirty Work. I like someone else to show up and make life pretty while I hide under the deck, earbuds in, listening to Starlee Kine host the Mystery Show podcast.

So, yea, laundry sucks–but each week when I’m in the grips of purposive adulting, carrying six loads up from the basement dryer, readying myself to separate the chaotic jumble into orderly stacks, thinking to myself, “Here’s another hour of my life I’ll never get back,” I am able to relax into the task.

It helps that I often drag out the small television set, usually tucked away on a wooden stand in a corner of the master bedroom, and do the almost-unheard-of thing called “watching shows in real time as they are broadcast.”

You might want to brace yourself. I’m about to make a shocking, even painful, revelation. My face reddens as I prepare to type these next sentences.

During certain parts of the year, on Monday nights, Dancing with the Stars is on.

My dudes: I watch it.

Some time ago, my mom came to visit, and it was important to her to keep up with Her Show, not to lose the thread of the competition. So I watched celebrities doing the cha-cha-cha with her. IT WAS A BONDING THING I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW.

Then it kind of stuck.

I know. I bad.

In my defense, I don’t always watch it. I mean, sometimes I can’t take another shirtless dip from a soap opera bemoaning how difficult he finds the sharp angles of the tango. Sometimes I want to hurl a handful of my necklaces at the screen when yet another weeping starlet recounts, in the weekly “wring-the-audience’s emotions package,” the most difficult year of her life–you know, when she had acne and went on audition after audition but kept being called Crater Face by insensitive casting agents.

But then there are seasons when Kirstie Alley’s going to bring her Crazy to the mambo, and I’m there. With it. Agape as the fringe shakes, hoping for a wild nip slip.

During seasons when I can’t tolerate the D-list celebrities who have been drafted to wear modest heels on a too-small rectangle of flooring while dancing to today’s hits sung by professional back-up singers and being judged by barely-corralled variations of Has Been, I make a smarter choice. I turn on PBS.

Specifically, I turn on Antiques Roadshow.

As it turns out, Antiques Roadshow is to Paco what an open compost pile is to a black bear in November: a buffet of delights.

The other week, when the mountain of freshly washed clothes seemed particularly huge–bigger than both a breadbox and one of them Thai stilt houses–I sighed tragically while plugging in the tv. What sad lot had befallen me! Having to face a dome of laundry! Which meant our lives are blessed with an abundance of stuff! Which we are able to clean easily with a machine in our lovely home! And dump onto a soft bed covered with pillows! While being entertained by technology and intelligent talking heads! All while using my strong arms!

Feel for me, Reader. Feel the feels a middle-class white lady in a relatively safe country deserves when she is healthy, overly well fed, has and excess of stuff, and is entirely too lucky.

Yea, I feel you: you got Zero Feels for me.

Don’t expect me to feel sorry for you, then, when your mini-van breaks down in the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

Like your Salted Caramel Truffle Blizzard won’t tide you over until AAA brings a tow-truck.

Now tuck into that Blizzard, shhhhhh, and let me continue.

We were comparing Paco to a black bear, ‘member?

And Antiques Roadshow to compost.

Maybe don’t tell the producers their show has been likened to garbage. They’re sensitive types, those PBS-ers. (*I just typed BS-ers*)

Paco certainly doesn’t think it’s garbage. That lad is nuts for appraisers and “found in the attic” baseball cards and craftsy folk art (do. not. get. him. started. on. slave. quilts.).

On the night in question, I had no sooner plugged in the tv than the kid, five feet away, whipped off his gaming headphones, pushed the rolling chair away from the computer, and asked, “Wait, is Antiques Roadshow on? Let me get out of my game, and then I can watch with you!”

Thinking through the logistics of his very important next half hour, he added, “And I’m going to pull in that black softie chair from my room and run downstairs to grab my dinner–Dad said it’ll be ready soon–so I don’t have to be disturbed once they start trotting out rotting sideboards and pre-Columbian pottery. Be right back!”

Four minutes later, as my piles on the bed grew from Husband’s Exercise Clothes to Husband’s Hoodies to Son’s Pajamas to Jocelyn’s Underwear (a suspiciously small pile, considering seven days had passed since the last folding), Paco settled in.

Spooning chicken curry into his mouth, he stared at the lively Japanese sculpture being examined on the screen and yelled excitedly, “It looks like the Cat Bus from Totoro!”

Next up? A wooden secretary purportedly from 1760.

“I don’t feel good about this one, Mom,” the middle school critic announced. “It looks too shiny. I think this lady’s going to get skunked.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the kid’s taste is impeccable. He knows a fake when he spots one. Indeed, the secretary was a poor replica of the original. Also, if he ever meets someone and then later counsels, “I don’t think this is someone you’d enjoy, like, for a longer time, in real life,” then do the wise thing and abandon all designs on friendship. It won’t end well.

As the disappointed secretary owner dejectedly stared at the faux antique she’d been proudly showing off to visitors for the past two decades, Paco set down his dinner bowl and slid slowly off his smushy chair to the floor. With half his body on the chair and half draped over the rug, he snagged the now-empty silver mesh laundry bag with his feet. Picking it up, he jammed it over his head and announced, stiffly, “I. am. a. robot.”

Moving as though his hinges needed oiling, he reached for his bowl of curry and–in a move so smooth only a twelve-year-old robot could have pulled it off–he maneuvered it under and inside his robot helmet.

Happily and literally enmeshed from scalp to hip inside a laundry basket, a smudge of sauce on his cheek, he lay at my feet, half on the chair, half off, alternating bites with comments:

“I love how that appraiser’s bow tie is crooked! Whenever he leans over those purple gloves to get a better look at them, it seems like it’s going to start twirling ’round and ’round. Between that tie and his slicked-back hair, doesn’t he look like The Penguin in Batman, Mom?”

Yes, yes, he did.

As I added a pair of shorts to my husband’s line of piles, I took my eyes off the screen, looked at what was in the room with me, and realized: there’s no such thing as drudgery or an unwelcome chore when my buddy is nearby.

I would fold laundry forever, if it meant I got to watch The Penguin while a curry-eating robot pointed out the subtleties of lost treasures.

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Twelve Days of Summer

Twelve Days of Summer with My Twelve-Year-Old: DAY ONE

Twelve-year-old Paco and I have a lot of time together during the summer months. While that fact often makes me want to dig my fingernails into my forearms until they leave half-moons that remain imprinted for half an hour, the truth is that our hours together are generally delightful.

In the next dozen posts, I’ll be recounting twelve moments that have kept me from locking the twelve-year-old in the garage.

It would just be for an hour. SHEESH.

Maybe three, if I decide to take on the annual dusting of the bookshelves.

Definitely not more than four.

I mean, he’d be out by dinnertime.

Bedtime for sure.

At any rate, with no further ado, here we go.

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On the first day of Summermas, my middle schooler gave to me: help at the library.

Every year, the public library holds a fundraising book sale, and every year I volunteer to work a shift. Few things make me happier than being surrounded by books, and there are few organizations whose mission moves me as deeply as that of public libraries. The only things that come close, on my pleasure scale, are popping a long-brewing zit, sipping a well-crafted IPA, making my daughter try on leopard-print stilettos in the shoe store and attempt to walk, and walking into the kitchen just as my husband has washed the last dish.

When the kids were younger, working the sale qualified as rare and wondrous: for two-and-a-half hours, I got to be alone–albeit while swarmed by a crowd of book buyers–but even in that crowd, I was still alone inside my head, something that still never happens when the kids are within eye- or ear-shot. Then, once they got older, both kids would join me to work the sale; during this stretch of years, I volunteered to staff the big garage where children’s books are sold, thinking the kiddles could wander around and paw through stacks, picking out purchases for themselves, while I sat by the till.

As if my kids have ever stepped more than three feet away from me in public.

Their close-orbiting, cautious, I-only-like-known-people natures prepared me not at all for other children. Completely untrained in the ways of normal small people–who, you know, sometimes pull a runner or who occasionally say words out loud to other human beings around them–I was a terrible On-Duty Childminder during play dates. With other parents’ kids in tow, we’d all wander up to the playground, at which point Paco, Allegra, and I would stand in frozen shock as their friends moved the air around them by climbing and throwing and shouting. We hadn’t known it could be like that. More than once, I narrowly missed breaking the fall of a child in my care as she toppled from some great height because who knew children could be wild and brave and push personal boundaries with an innate sense of exploration?

With their sit quietly, hang close, and speak-in-whispers-but-only-when-no-one’s-looking habits, my damn placid kids trained me for nothing that occurs in nature. They also refused to go paw through books in the children’s garage at the library sale. Instead, they glued their hips and elbows to mine for the entirety of our shift, turning every monetary transaction into the equivalent of a three-legged race humped out by conjoined triplets.

More recently, Allegra’s aged out of helping during the sale. She’s got trails to run, jobs to find, babysitting to do, a low-lit bedroom to read in. So it’s been Paco and me, Wonder Team of the Cash Drawer, these past couple of go-rounds. Last year, we worked the “high-end and rare books” room, which saw us tucked back into a quiet corner at our check-out table, surrounded by staid patrons sporting nasal tones and thick wallets. While it felt very safe and calm there, the minutes ticked by slowly, for there are only so many people interested in buying biographies of George Orwell written in 1952.

Thus, Paco requested that, this year, we work a station with a bit more action.

He requested that we work sales for the Fiction Room.

While I had some worry that my sensitive introvert of a kid might be all

Jimmy

when faced with masses of rabid readers chasing down a deal, I figured it was worth a try. If nothing else, the experience would provide him with further evidence that People Are Annoying, and if you ask me, that’s the kind of life lesson that’s easier learned young.

So I signed us up to cashier for Fiction. Novels, small and large. Trade paperbacks. Best-seller hardbacks.

The first day of Paco’s summer vacation, therefore, saw him stationed at a folding table in a high-traffic area. We had our money box. We had our list of prices (hardbacks $2.00; trade paperbacks $1.50; pocket editions $.50). We had our aprons. We had our stash of plastic and paper bags. We had an invitation from the bustling Midwestern woman in charge–competent despite her lack of apron–to stop by the staff lounge for grapes, cookies, or coffee served in a styrofoam cup and garnished with powdered creamer. Her vowels alternating between rounded and sharp, the accent full Minnesotan, she pipped, “Don’t you be shy, now. Any time you need a little snack, you just pop down the hall.”

As if Paco, no matter how hungry or how clear the welcome, would ever wander down the hall to get himself a cookie.

We didn’t much have time to consider snacking anyhow, what with 97% of folks attending the sale stopping by our table to check out. Additionally, a host of regional book buyers hit sale each year to stock their inventories, with some purchasing over $400 in cheap books. Such transactions can take 20 minutes of sweaty sorting and adding when it comes time to pay. Almost immediately after taking charge of the cashier table, Paco and I were swamped.

He started out tentatively, wanting me to handle the math and money while he did the bagging. Soon, however, two lines formed, one next to him and one next to me. Flop sweat visibly dotting his soft, sweet skin, he did a whispered check-in with me after he figured out each customer’s total, just wanting to be sure before he made it official and announced it out loud.

At the same time we were tallying up totals for those in front of us, a few Super Buyers–just regular people who were hitting the motherlode during their browsing–kept coming and going from our table, depositing their latest armload of finds behind or next to the table. Over the course of an hour, one woman consigned the equivalent of eight paper shopping bags of books to our care.

And then. When she was ready to check out, I murmured to Paco that we should sort the books into stacks of similar types as we extracted them from the bags and started adding up her final bill. Nodding, he added, “Let’s do stacks of ten.” Simultaneously, our heads dipped, and we began the process of creating order out of one woman’s bibliophiliac chaos.

Within three minutes, I realized that the balance of power at table, out of nowhere, had shifted.

I realized I was interfering with my kid’s efforts.

I realized I was in the midst of one of those heart-stirring moments of parenting: I was watching my child–he who who never wanted to get dropped off at camp unless he had a friend with him, he who never wanders into his room and closes the door, he who ends every day by asking, as he snuggles under the covers, “What are we all doing tomorrow?”–handle a situation. On his own.

Grabbing the moment, I told the twelve-year-old, “This is going to work best if you deal with it. I’m messing up your stacks. Let me know if you need an assist. Otherwise, I’m out.”

For the next five minutes, both the customer and the mother watched in wonder. While the exhausted shopper sat on the steps near us, fanning her face in recovery during the accounting, I stepped away from the eight bags of books and plopped onto a folding chair.

And we observed a young man taking charge.

First, he arranged 15 stacks across the table, each containing ten books of like type. Because it didn’t come out evenly, he also had one stack with three pocket-sized editions and an extra stack with only eight trade paperbacks.

Then, silently, he stared at the stacks for a minute, waving his hand over each one. A maestro. A wizard.

After that, he shot me a sideways glance and said, “I’m going to double check my numbers on the calculator.”

Carry on, Potter.

Thirty seconds of tapping on keys later, he announced, “It’s $150.50.”

Re-inserting myself, I whispered, “Are you completely sure about this total, or do you want me to check, too?”

He blinked. Twice. Slowly.

Channeling The Muse of Book Love, his hands began waving over the stacks again, conducting an out-loud overture of “ten hardbacks, ten hardbacks, ten hardbacks, and that’s $60. Ten trade, ten trade, for $30, which makes $90. huzzabuzz, huzzabuzz, plus this-n-that, which takes it to $146. Then there are three at .$50 and two more at $1.50, and that’s $4.50 more, so it’s…”

At which point I confirmed, “…like you said, $150.50.”

Resting her cheek onto her curled fist, the exhausted shopper smiled and marveled, “Wow. He’s really good.”

Her words were hugely important.

I will thank her for them forever.

Paco has always known I’m there for him. He has always known I think he’s terrific. These two things, taken together, have made it so that he’s secure, able to take his time in asserting independence. While I’ve long been ready for him to fly, he still loves the nest.

That’s the thing about Age 12. We’re both right.

Thanks to the tired shopper’s words, though, Paco received a message that day from Outside the Nest. When he’s ready to jump, the world will embrace him.

Looking wiped out, Paco bagged up the woman’s books while I found her a flat cart to use for wheeling them to her car. Watching the doors swing shut behind her, the Wonder Team of the Cash Drawer experienced a rare lull.

Scooting my chair closer, wanting to connect my hip to my boy’s, to feel our elbows brush against each other, I leaned my head against his and proposed, “How about I go find you a cookie and a cup of coffee?”

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summer vacation

The Defeat of Crabby Guy

I’m pretty sure my inner crabby person is a male over 80, what with the way he swings in, plops down with an exhausted sigh at the kitchen counter, and acts like I should pour him a cup of coffee because he couldn’t possibly pick up the mug in front of him and fill it from the pot percolating next to his elbow. He never learned how.

Some say it’s a generational thing.

Malarkey. It’s an issue of character, not age: dude is both indolent and demanding.

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Crabby Guy would like another tissue now. GET HIM ONE.

Indeed, my inner crabby person is irrational, expects coddling, and is unwavering in the belief that his view of the world is correct.

Specifically, my inner crabby person is exasperated by

  • small talk becauseofcourseit’shotorcoldoutsideoritrainedorsnowedordidn’t
  • bumper stickers that read “Be the change you wish to see in the world”
  • the assumption that simply because people share an employer, they should spend their off hours socializing
  • perfume ads in magazines
  • the value placed on “likability” over “simultaneously held diverging thoughts”
  • readers who pay good money for Nicholas Sparks books when worthy multitudes sit on nearby shelves, gasping for an audience
  • rotator cuff tendonitis that keeps him awake in the night
  • people who won’t own their role in the problem
  • the bottom of the beer glass ’cause why it always gots to show up in such a hurry?
  • passive/aggressive social media posting
  • jinky crap
  • cutesy shit
  • the namby-pamby of matchy-matchy
  • people who can’t discern a difference between faith and religion; people who want religion to dictate policy; people who use religion as a means of promoting anti-intellectualism; basically all the Fox News anchors plus them Duggar types, and I have to stop typing now because my old crabby guy’s ear hair is tying itself into knots with the irritation, and soon he won’t be able to hear if I don’t move on
  • people who know they are going to sit for hours but don’t bring a book, preferring instead to stare into space
  • fuckers who swear at their shitty kids
  • chipmunks

To tell you true, there’s actually a lot I enjoy about my inner crabby person. If nothing else, he’s authentic, unwilling to brook fools, impatient with having his time co-opted by nimrods. Then again, there’s that lazy business of My Hand Can’t Pick up a Coffee Pot.

Harrumph. Sometimes my inner crabby person makes me cranky.

Mostly, though, he is very welcome–a pipeline for frustrations and anxieties, pumping the sludge out of my head and into the Bog of Wasted Energy. He’s predictable, too. For example, I can count on him to show up every May and June, sporting a bad attitude like socks under sandals.

See, my inner crabby person gets revved up as the end of the kids’ school year approaches. Bushy brows scrunching, Crabby Guy considers all the time he’s had alone in his house during the previous nine months. He reviews how effective his host lady has been at her work, which occurs largely from home, due to having time and space inside her own head, at the keyboard, focused on doing. He grins when he recalls long afternoons of writing and grading interrupted only by the need to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. He contemplates how solid, balanced, and content Host Lady feels during this stage of life, when the kids head off for a goodly chunk of the day. It’s a beautiful phase, this era of solitude so sufficient that the counterpoint hours of togetherness are a genuine joy.

But then. May arrives, and the countdown to summer begins. Suddenly, we’re in the last weeks of school, and those days are like a trial run for summer vacation in the way they whack away at time that could be, ideally, devoted checking items off to a to-do list; every other night is band concert and art show and Honors Banquet and Track Banquet. It’s a busy schedule, a loaded countdown, a few final weeks that gnaw at the edges of the remaining “free” parental free hours. Before school ever lets out, my inner crabby person is yanking at his remaining tufts of hair, removing the batteries from his hearing aids, attempting to dodge the frantic celebrations that mark summer’s imminence.

But of course he represents. His host lady drags him to every damn thing. Shoves him into a wheelchair and rolls him in if he dares kvetch about a sore hip. Hisses into his ear, “Yes, you may have been humping around all day, longing for a quick grab of more minutes, but hesh up and behave now. We are HERE in the school, and this isn’t about you. This is about showing up, shutting up, and making that soft, sweet kid in our lives feel loved. So cement your complaining maw closed.”

Tamed by the hiss, Crabby Guy tamps down his crankies and weathers all the end-of-school-year festivities. However: even while he’s obliging–eating flaccid green beans at a table with strangers and snapping photos in dimly lit auditoriums–he’s inwardly paralyzed with dread.

He can’t stop fretting. After the celebrations are done, and the school year is a wrap, the kids come home. And stay there. Every day. All the time. For 90 days. Bored. Saying, “I’m hungry. What is there to eat?” Pitching boneless bodies onto the couch. Sighing deeply. Asking, “So. Are we doing anything today?” Showing up across the table just as he’s sat down with a hot cup of coffee someone else poured for him, a pancake made by Host Lady on the plate in front of him, maple syrup dribbling into lakes. Those dang kids wondering aloud, “Would you like to do something? Maybe play a game?” just as the first forkful enters his mouth.

Such stuff adds another bullet point onto the list of what makes him crabby:

  • being cruise director of other people’s time

It would be different if Crabby and I went off to work each day, and the kids went off to camp or daycare. The entire situation would be different if we had that respite from each other, gratefully coming together just before the dinner hour. It is not like that, though. Rather, I am here all day. They are here all day.

To put a finer point on it: Byron does go off to work. Allegra is teenager enough that she has driver’s ed, a new job, babysitting, her running group; the only pleading looks she casts my way are more like “GAWD, Mom. Stop talking.”

That leaves only one person to trigger my crabby.

Interestingly, he’s one of my favorites. He’s much like me. I adore him.

Yet he sits there, adrift, and watches Crabby Guy lift that first forkful of pancake to his mouth, at which point the kid asks, “Would you like to do something? What can we do?” That’s Sunday. He does this on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, too. He’s particularly good at tapping the Host Lady’s shoulder while she’s vacuuming and asking, “Do you need to finish that right now? If not, would you maybe like to go outside and play volleyball?” For 90 days, it’s like this, with Host Lady teetering wildly between swooning that her dearest pal wants to play volleyball with her…and simultaneously wanting to snap, “Uh, YEA, I do need to finish this right now. I’m vacuuming one room. It’s a seven-minute task. We have company coming; we are pigs; and I’m trying to hide that fact from our guests. I plugged this machine in and am currently using it. So, YES, I do need to finish the thing I’m in the middle of doing. When I’m done, of course, let’s play volleyball. Unless you’d like to watch me eat a pancake first.”

Teetering for 90 days puts a significant strain on the stabilizer muscles.

As a veteran of archery camp, Fiber Fun Camp, YMCA camp, swim camp, soccer camp, game-design camp, and you-name-it-he’s-done-it camp, the boy resists nearly all suggestions of camps. Being twelve years old, with a parent at home, he never goes off to any sort of “care.” Despite teaching two summer classes, I never go off to work. Instead, I pack my online teaching into hasty minutes tucked around queries of “What should I have for lunch?” My work, the source of our family’s everything, is cobbled together. So is my mood.

He is my Paco, and although I am nuts for him, sometimes–*looks both ways; gestures towards the corner, over by the step stool, where we can crouch down and have a sibilant tête-à-tête*–he gets the crabby person inside of me all wound up. Truly, it’s so much easier now, when he’s twelve, than it was ten, nine, eight, seven years ago. Those were the tough years during which Crabby Guy sometimes sneezed vigorously in an effort to blow the hands on the clock forward. Now, in adolescence, Paco can be expected to self-entertain; he gets a certain amount of screen time, and he reads, reads, reads…but only if he can find a book, book, book that captures his mind. Sometimes, he hangs out with friends. Other times, he’s home by himself. But when others are in the house, he craves companionship. He’d like to play a game. He’d like to bake. He’d like to walk. He’d like to stand, hovering over his mother’s shoulder as she checks her email. He’d like to ask, as his mother agitatedly sneaks a glance at the 131 discussion posts tossed out in class since 9 a.m., if she might like to throw the frisbee around. Often, he deflects all suggested activities, swanning about tiredly after having done absolutely nothing.

He is all of us when we were twelve, should we care to recall our early adolescence with honesty.

His need for interaction is so sweet that I just about want to elbow the crabby person who lives inside of me off a cliff and cover my ears against the echoing “Whaaaat theeee helllllll???” as he falls. My boy is a love. Crabby Guy has some sort of nerve–to grouse when a pure “Would you like to do something?” comes out of the mouth of a lad whose first whisker is years off, who still can’t believe how good lentil chips are, who just wants to make some plushies if he could get a little help with the sewing machine.

The good news is that the crabby person who lives inside of me, after becoming surpassingly crusty as the school year draws to a close, gets over his bad self once he gives in to the rhythms of the seasons. Maybe his faculties are flagging, and he can’t be bothered to maintain his sour mood. Or maybe, just maybe, he slams a shot of vodka-spiked Ensure in the coat closet and discovers it’s easier to let warmth and acceptance spread through his aching bones. However it happens–once summer hits, and school is out, and I’m stressy with attending to teaching just as the kid would like to learn to wind a bobbin–I do relax. Whenever Crabby Guy staggers out of the coat closet, raring to slur some complaints about “work-home tension,” he has a choice: he can shape up and appreciate the bounty, or he can turn around and march himself right back into that tiny room of fleece jackets and winter scarves and crack another Ensure.

In general, he makes the right choice. Sure, occasionally he still limps around, one hand massaging his rotator cuff, the other plucking at rogue nostril hairs, ready to bitch about his lot.

But then, stopping to tug at a drooping compression sock, the crabby person who lives inside of me spies, out of the corner of his eye, a twelve-year-old body sitting on the piano bench, noodling out a composition using only the black keys. Seeing someone enter the room, Paco sits up straighter. He turns, delighted by the prospect of companionship, and asks, “Would you like to make up a melody with me? I can slide over! And maybe after that, we could whip up some popovers?”

Before he finishes, a quiet “Poof” blows through the room. Defeated, Crabby Guy dissolves into nothingness, leaving behind only Host Lady–me–smiling fondly as she considers the shock of wavy hair hovering over eighty-eight keys.

Teaching can wait. Vacuuming can wait. The pancake can wait.

None of it matters when there’s a duet to be played.

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