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Suddenly, we’ve got a 3rd grader and a kindergartner on our hands. Granted, the boys obviously aren’t old; for pete’s sakes, they aren’t even in middle school, but I start to have real and vivid memories around the age Jack is now, and I certainly remember clear snippets of third grade. So, long story short, tomorrow’s start of school seems, in some ways, big. And different. As if he’s started down a new path. One that little Ol just isn’t on yet. (Thank goodness).

We spent our Labor Day reviewing just what we were having a holiday for (because really, no parent whose kids haven’t yet started school needs a holiday; they need school to commence; stat.) and making our way down to The Big Maze installation at The National Building Museum. Eighteen feet tall at its highest point with a 60′ x 60′ square footprint, The Big Maze, inspired by labyrinths and old English garden mazes, is, simply, fun. The outer perimeter marks the high point of height; each subsequent, interior perimeter sinks slightly lower. When you reach the center, you can view the walls around you as they grow up and away. The maze is built of maple plywood and in certain spots, because of the Building Museum’s gorgeous skylights, it is positively aglow.

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The Big Maze

We went through as a team, in pairs, having spun and “lost” Jack before following his lead and pretty much every variation of all that. After ten or twelve trips through, excited calls of “dead end! No, this way!” clanging all around us, we finally tired, broke for lunch and then headed home for a lazy afternoon.

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The center of The Big Maze

T gave the boys haircuts, we picked out their outfits for tomorrow, I read to them from Winnie-the-Pooh, we studied the remaining fish and took bets on Lightning Strike being the next loss, should death visit our aquarium again, had more snacks, more stories, more kisses and finally, sleep.

I just went in to kiss the boys again, marveling anew at how such utterly kinetic beings can become so peaceful and still in just minutes. I donned a latex glove, taped it at my wrist so as to keep my bandaged pinky dry, showered quickly and gratefully and am now in bed.

Jack, my third grader, will be in an upstairs classroom for the first time, his fifth year, at this marvelous school. It seems so purposeful and meaningful, this trip up the stairs instead of down; down into the safe womb of littler and younger and more innocent; down where Oliver will go. I know they’ll hate this physical separation which will come earlier, geographically, than it did last year. But I also look forward to this, for them, for us all.

His teachers sent a query to their class; Quakers like queries, and really, what a magnificent way to consider and learn. Anyway, this query involved a picture of two circles on a chalkboard: one is “you”; the other, just beyond “your” perimeter is “where the magic happens.” Isn’t that wonderful? Before sleep struck, Jack and Ol and I talked about all we’d learned by jumping into the next circle.

“I learned that swimming was so much fun.”

“I learned that Camp Calleva was awesome.”

“I learned that being your Mom was amazing.”

And so, with smiles on our faces and eagerness in our hearts, we look forward to tomorrow with excitement and gratitude, ready to jump into another new circle and open ourselves to the magic which will come.

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Mom left today, and, as always, her departure made us all feel blue. She took Tom and me to the movie – A Most Wanted Man – and dinner last night; we went to Le Chat Noir, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect evening to do so. They had all their floor-to-ceiling windows open, and a marvelous breeze blew slowly through all night long. We drank a sublime bottle of Aligoté, supped on endive salad, poached pear with blue cheese, onion soup and on and on, and then made our way home where we all quickly crashed. All night long I dreamed I was awake which is such a pits of a way to waste sleep. I felt positively gaga today but happy nonetheless.

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two boys and their pizza

After sorrowful hugs outside Terminal B, the boys and I made our way to the farmers market where they gobbled a margherita pizza from The Red Zebra, popsicles from Pleasant Pops and many, many slices of everything Toigo Orchards was sampling. We came away with loads of peaches, some Italian prune plums, wax beans, and tasso for the freezer as my stores were empty after last week’s marvelous tart. It was hot as blazes by that point, so, sweating profusely, we came home with the definite plan to remain inside for the remains of the day.

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two boys and their popsicles

On Friday, we’d gone to Pet Smart to purchase fish for the aquarium I’d set up Wednesday. Our local Pet Smart seems to be the place that folks who might love animals but have lost all love for humans as well as all happiness in life go to work. It is an experiment in depression to go there and interact with the employees, particularly the middle-aged woman who micromanages the cat adoptions and occasionally spends some time in fish and at the check-out and the much younger woman who appears to work solely in aquarium-based animals like fish and hermit crabs.

When we adopted Jack’s hermit crabs, Young Gal, so unbelievably stern and unsmiling, helped us until a crab pinched her. She tossed him back into the tank, ran into the back without word, and we never saw her again. I finally had to go ask someone else to assist us. And all the damn crabs went and moped around in our lovely tank, shed their shells and died odd, naked deaths; one in pieces, limbs torn akimbo, and the other forlorn in the food bowl as if he just could not go on.

Months later, when we adopted Nutmeg, I seriously wondered if Older Woman would accept our money and our plea for the Nut. I mean, doesn’t she want to place the cats into loving homes? We were basically crying with joy; she never broke even the idea of a smile.

Recently, Oliver suggested we try hermit crabs again, a proposal I emphatically and immediately rejected. Later, he mused, “What about fish?”

“Ok, Ol, fish are much more interesting. We can do fish.”

Fast forward to last Wednesday, and I ask Young Gal to help me prepare: what did I need? How did I go about readying the tank? How many fish can fit in a 10-gallon aquarium? I said I’d return the next day, with the boys, so that they could pick out the fish.

“Oh, NO!,” crowed Older Woman from a ladder down in frogs and crabs, “I’d wait at least a week. At LEAST! You need to let your tank adjust.” And with that she went back to whatever she was doing near the ceiling.

Young Gal largely concurred: “You want to let the good bacteria build up, and the water temperature equalize…” Whatever.

“Ok,” said I, “we will not come back tomorrow.” I told the boys we should wait a week, but they were so eager, and I’d been so fastidious with the cleaning and measuring and preparing, and they really wanted Mom to be there, and so, after 50 hours, we returned.

Young Gal clearly recognized me but made no move to say hi or acknowledge that, by this point, we definitely know who each other is. I felt like I was skipping detention and the Grandmaster Tattletale was watching me and judging, thinking, “You fish killer, you. Didn’t you listen to me and Older Woman?!” Her eyes burned into my back, but my love is with my darling boys so they picked out five fish: two neon tetras, one yellow GloFish, one black something or other and one orange and black. Their names were to become, respectively, Ning, Raider, Sunburst, Black Swimmer (nickname: Night Fury) and Lightning Strike.

Young Gal gave us the fish without smiling, and we hurried them home and transferred them with thrill.

Raider died this morning. Sunburst died this afternoon. And I swear to you I feel like that Gal sent us out with a hex so I’d learn my lesson. I’ll have to don a wig to go back for replacement fish. The stress of fish, for the love.

And tonight I nearly chopped the top of my pinky finger off while cutting cheese for the boys’ dinner so I spent two hours at the ER where seemingly everyone had cut their hands. Unlike the kale incident three years ago which left me with four stitches in my index finger, tonight I’ve only been dermabonded and bandaged, a treatment for which I’m feeling most grateful.

The boys are STILL up, but I’ve shut off my on-duty lamp and am off to bed. Tomorrow is September! When? How?

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thank goodness for sharp knives and the clean cuts they make

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Threes

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Three ways I know the boys are home:
1. I found tee-tee droplets on my toilet seat.
2. The milk and all bagged snacks were gone immediately.
3. Trails of underpants, markers, general nature flotsam and other objects map the boys’ various paths around the house.
Bonus 4: my bath tub is full of Lego Star Wars characters.

Three one-sentence movie reviews:
1. Mandela: Patience of Job, determination of Sisyphus yield incredible results.
2. August: Osage County: Other than Big Charles, one character is more fucked-up than the next, and I’m glad I don’t live there.
3. A Most Wanted Man: Middling German accents build into a “did you see that coming?!” end and a mourning for Philip Seymour Hoffman that will leave you staggering .

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I am just crushed, y’all. Mom’s and the boys’ flight out of Lake Charles was so late that they’d have missed their connection in Houston, so they had to change everything to return tomorrow. Of course I am glad that they found this out while still in LC, but I was desperately excited to see them tonight. It was a pretty crap night all around, really, and so I am calling it a day, eager to see them tomorrow.

When unhappy, what do I often do but cook. T benefited from this in grand fashion tonight because I made one of my best dishes: a caramelized shallot and cabbage tart with tasso (a cured ham that’s a specialty of southern Louisiana food. It’s long been hard to find around here but of late seems to be on a popularity kick, and I now buy excellent tasso from Eco Friendly Foods at the Dupont farmers market.) Yee-howdy.

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caramelized shallot, cabbage and tasso tart

This plus two episodes of House of Cards (I know, I’m behind; just started it two days ago.) and some wine has taken me down a notch, amen. Off to bed I go.

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Big Boys Week

We touched down on the outskirts of my hometown knowing that eager arms waited close by to ensnare the three of us in warm hugs. From within that circle of loving embrace, profuse excitement bubbled up as if we were a magic cauldron whose power only worked when none of the five was absent. After a short, familiar drive, we walked through the back door and settled in, and it was clear that no time had passed; this truly was a second home. Is a second home.

Mom, Dad, Jack, Ol, Tom and I always look forward to the annual summertime Big Boys Week in Louisiana. My parents relish unhurried time with the boys, especially in, but not because of, our absence. Pretty much every grandparent with whom I’ve ever spoken has said that the relationship (s)he can forge with his/her grandkids when the parental middlepeople aren’t around is wonderful and different from the one enjoyed when everyone’s together. I love watching my parents work as a team with the boys. They are so truly happy to be with them, delighted with their silliness and charm and interests.

And it’s completely mutual. The boys and my parents have always shared a particularly close connection, a real point of satisfaction and pride for us all, especially in light of the geographic distance between Louisiana and DC as that makes visits more infrequent than we’d all like. But in all the important ways, the distance has never seemed to matter, and so the kids look forward to their Big Boys stay with such enthusiasm every year. They get to fish and swim and eat junk food and spend endless hours with people they love who sincerely want to spend endless hours right back with them. Who doesn’t win in this scenario?!

Naturally, Tom and I also go bonkers over the idea of Big Boys Week because it means having a protracted (and free!!) holiday to ourselves. Usually we go away for some of it, and part of me is desperately missing the Union Square Greenmarket right now because New York is our most common destination, but this time decided to stay put because, in short, we are deeply tired. I have gotten done this week many, many things I never have time for and have so enjoyed the hours I could spend accomplishing them. Jack’s room is now unrecognizable in a nicely non-hoarder way, and I bought him new sheets to celebrate all the ludicrous cleanliness happening in there. I spent some hours today setting up a fish tank in Ol’s room- he’s been asking, and since the dumb hermit crabs died, why not?

I really don’t think the kids miss me a lick while they’re in Louisiana. I’ve had to get used to that, but as Tom reminded me last night, “Em, they pretty much molest you at all times when you’re together, so why don’t you just enjoy a molestation-free week and know that it’ll start up again soon.” Point taken, and really, I should be and truly am very proud of how independent the kids are. They are usually completely open to new experiences and times away, and I think that’s a reflection of their security in our mother-child relationship and of their own senses of self-confidence.

Mom’s Experience of Big Boys Week

I, on the other hand, have missed them more this week than I usually do, seriously leading me to wonder if I’m suffering from a benign form of Stockholm syndrome. I mean, honestly, sometimes when we’re apart, I don’t miss them at all, so what gives? Many a parent spends a decent amount of time day-dreaming about time off and space for self, and then, when we get it, we sometimes miss our tiny captors. It’s enough to make me feel like I’m slightly nuts, but I guess that’s maternal love for you. A few nights back, I would have given anything to sneak into the boys’ rooms and kiss their warm cheeks and slightly sweaty brows. To place my hand in theirs and feel their fingers curl gently, reflexively around mine. Instead, I put my ear plugs in and slept the night away which was pretty dreamy too, but still…

It’s been harder than usual to let down and relax this past week. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely lazed about and savored every second of uninterrupted solitude and time with T and friends. But it’s been a sort of effort that, in my opinion, comes from my body having to relearn how to not be so “on” all.the.time. In the absence of constant and important responsibilities and the energy and adrenalin needed to power through and on behalf of those, my body is confused: “What is this thing called free time? What do you want me to do right now?” I didn’t feel this at BlogHer because that conference is a minute-to-minute ride in the best of ways. There, I’m on, but in a much different way than when at home.

Clearly, I need to “do” this more often if possible, because I hardly think it good that R&R feels difficult. Or maybe it’s just felt that way because I’ve had a headache the entire time. But I think that stems from the same source: when your body can let down, all it’s been holding back and disallowing let’s down too. It makes me think of how, after a massage, you often leave with the strict advice to “drink LOTS of water because when your muscles release, a whole bunch of toxins release too.” All that bad energy or those worries or sadness or fatigue…it all comes rushing through the rarely-open floodgates, and that’s part of what makes a massage a healing experience. Perhaps this migraine is just a massage aftermath in altered state.

As I often do, I think about what I might learn from times like these. What does it mean that my weekends in Richmond and San Jose (for the conferences) were so enlivening and prompted me to consider some important questions of purpose and aim? That the boys’ weeks at Calleva worked so well for us all? And that this down time has, for me, felt so needed and lovely and challenging?

Some of What I’ve Learned This Summer

At BlogHer, because it was my second time there and so I could focus a bit beyond just immersing myself in all the opportunities, I tried to keep front and center the big questions the conference poses: What are my goals? What about my blogging endeavor is most important? Why do I continue to blog? What do I hope to accomplish by doing so? How best can I make those things happen? Who in my life is supportive? Who’s not?

I came home with a number of thoughts and have since processed most and acted on some.

-For starters, I see that I desire a different sort of balance in my life. “Balance” is a tricky concept because it means something different to each of us, and often, it’s influenced by external models and ‘shoulds’ that don’t always ring true if we pay attention and are honest with ourselves. Long story short, it can be hard to both define and find.

To me, balance is shaping up to mean a responsibility to spend my time and energy and love on the activities and interests and people that/who need and appreciate it. It’s also the selfishly unselfish act of realizing that taking time for myself and my interests makes me better able to mother, friend, wife, volunteer, etc, (All those should be read as verbs, y’all.) and because of that, setting limits, saying no and standing up for what I need doesn’t require apology. It requires acceptance of who I am and that, in the sage words of Jenny Lawson, “I might not be for everyone.”

Balance is why Calleva worked so well for the boys and me. Each day provided them the opportunity to exert themselves physically and emotionally and socially for the number of hours they really need to do those things completely. Calleva ran longer than school, was basically a fun P.E. class outside for the entire time and each week, the kids and counselors in each group changed. I learned so much about the boys as I saw how happy they were in that environment. They love school deeply, and about that I am thrilled. But there is something to the unstructured, physical stuff that is extraordinarily good for them, and I need to figure out how best to keep that going. Concurrently, I finally had enough time each day to get my stuff done in a relaxed versus harried manner. Because of that, I didn’t have to race all day to fit things in between drop-off and pick-up which meant that I wasn’t wiped out just as my real day began. Critically important!

-Secondly, and in response to how best I can help advance my goals, I will no longer be catering as I wish to use that time in other ways that fulfill me more. Thank you to everyone who has been a wonderful “client”- you were always much more than that.

-Thirdly, someone recently asked me a simple question that rang as profound: “If your “closest” friends aren’t supportive of your having found a passion and following through on that, are they really great friends?”. I love when such a basic, objectively-asked query sets me straight. Answer: No. And thank you very much. This needn’t mean anything except that I need to adjust my expectations regarding some relationships; this is always good to know because it avoids both superfluous energy expended and disappointment.

-Fourth, I am working with a woman I met at BlogHer on an Em-i-lis redesign (mostly visual), believing that investing in myself is never the wrong tactic in life. Neither is investing in others in whom you believe and wish to know better (the woman I met at BlogHer who is helping with the redesign; also, many others!). Because of that, I’m spending my own money on this renovation and feel awfully proud of that. My mom always said it was important to have your own money. Another story for another time, but she was right.

And thus…

As I sit here this evening, slathered in peppermint oil which is not doing a damn thing besides smelling nice and snarfing cheese like I’m Bridget Jones, I am grateful.

I’m grateful for these lessons learned, and I’m grateful to the people who and experiences that helped me learn them.
I’m grateful to my parents and Tom’s parents for being so invested in our children’s lives and for the needed breaks their love often provides us. You make us all better.
I’m grateful to be getting older and just -finally!- not caring as much about some things as I used to. A giant amen to that last one, for the love.
I’m grateful for clarity when it comes, even if its path to me can sometimes seem awfully inefficient and muddy.
I’m grateful to my husband who may only bring me flowers spontaneously (he knows about Valentines Day, friends) every eleven years (last week; clock starts anew, T) but who is always supportive of me pursuing the things that make me tick.
I am grateful to my darling boys who made me both a besotted mother and Stockholm syndrome sufferer because without them, neither this post nor its title would exist.
I’m grateful to you for recognizing the sarcasm in the last part of that previous gratitude.
I’m grateful for all the real deal folks out there as well as all those who pave ways and provide opportunities that the rest of us can traverse and take.
I’m grateful for all the loud, funny, honest-as-shit women who inspire me daily.
I’m grateful that I love the written word and have some facility with it, and I’m grateful for this platform which allows me to write and share daily.

Thanks.

Last night, I had after-dinner plans with dear friend, M, to drink champagne and look at each other’s wedding albums. As I had not laid eyes on mine in years and have only seen one of M’s wedding pics, I knew it’d be a lovely way to spend a Monday evening.

But first, migraine elimination and dinner. I pretty much gave up on the former but was determined to make a lovely meal regardless. During my writing class on Sunday, Lili told us about her son’s new job as a line cook at one of John Besh’s new spots in NOLA and in doing so dropped word of some ridiculously amazing pizza that included mascarpone, fresh figs and prosciutto. As I had just bought some figs and could not stop thinking about this pizza, I took a break from Jack’s room yesterday afternoon to make a batch of Peter Reinhart’s Neapolitan pizza dough.

After letting it rise for several hours, I pulled off about a sixth of the dough, shaped it into a thin crust and spread it with a film of mascarpone, some caramelized shallots I’d just made, sliced figs, salt, bacon (I just can’t find the love for prosciutto; I do love speck but couldn’t find it yesterday.) and a bit of fresh mozzarella. Once the pizza stone and grill were adequately heated, I popped this baby on until just done, spread some fresh arugula on top and dove in.

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figgy flatbread

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don’t you want a slice?

Today, my migraine is largely gone, Jack’s room is finally clean, last night was so lovely and fun and I have two small wedges of figgy flatbread left!

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