new york city kid in arkansas
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A late afternoon neighborhood walk with Sunny …

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For Halloween this year Huck dressed as himself: a tall, slender 14 year old high school freshman full of homework anxiety, prone to migraines, excelling in every class. Scariest costume to date! Standing next to him, I was the Incredible Shrinking Mother.

This glorious month of October was all about Huck losing his iPhone, a fun fall visit from the Nickels, a production of “101 Dalmatians” starring 63 small children, a lovely high school choir concert, six adorable home grown pumpkins from Troy’s patch, more fireplace fires than I can count, binge watching “Dark” on Netflix, exciting parent/teacher conferences, much practicing of Kabalevsky’s Op. 1, No. 13, 3rd mvt on the piano, the purchase of a “new” iPhone, the breathtaking beauty of the changing leaves, and the absence of a Halloween costume.

As if to bring the message of Change home loud and clear, on Halloween Eve we arrived from work & school with plans to carve our three pumpkins, only to discover that Troy’s & Huck’s had been taken right out of our yard. Huck had lots of homework anyway and wasn’t sure he could afford the break, and since I can’t stand carving pumpkins Troy inherited mine and created his yearly work of art without us.

On this last night of October, we three visited the square and watched families trick-or-treat like we used to do before heading into Tiny Tim’s for our traditional special occasion dinner, followed by a gathering with old friends and too much candy.

Not such a different Halloween after all.

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This is a picture of my mom and little sister Jeni, circa 1978-ish. My mom still wears her hair like this and still chooses that same spot on a now less plaid-covered sofa, but Jeni has finally stopped showing her undies in every picture. My sister found this in an old album last week during her stay with my mom while her husband Nathan took my dad to the Grand Canyon for a bucket list trip of a lifetime. The Tacketts are two of the most selfless people around – ask anyone who knows them – but what they did for my parents last week will forever live in my heart as their biggest act of love yet.

My sister Lori worked over Labor Day weekend so she could join them mid-week, bringing flowers and cooking lasagna, and I was able to come for the very tail end of the week. I found two happy women waiting for me, one lavished with delicious home cooked meals, daily pedicures, nightly movie fests, and non-stop one on one attention. The other full of stories of their wonderful week so far together.

On Sunday my dad returned from his vacation also full of stories. This was pretty special for a man who can no longer leave town, but I knew he was relieved and happy to be home with his companion of over 50 years. Plus he didn’t fall into the Grand Canyon even once.

We’re all back where we belong now, a little more tired and a little more grateful. Happy birthday, Nathan, and thanks for the idea.

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Huck’s in High School! Aside from his bus being over an hour late on the hottest afternoon known to humankind, he and his 500 pound backpack had a fine first day. Back when he started kindergarten I channeled all my anxiety into his lunch containers. Oh, those were the days!

The older Huck gets, the more vivid my memories are of being his age, and I remember high school (and my discovery of almost everything I love) very well. His school is gigantic – nearly 3000 students – and I’d like to take this moment to thank the upperclassman who helped him find his way from Room 1907 to Room 3907 on day one. His freshman schedule includes Pre-AP Algebra II, AP Human Geography, French, Choir, Pre-AP Biology, Pre-AP English and my favorite … Virtual Health & PE.

PE ON A COMPUTER! (I tried to talk Huck out of this decision until I realized it would have been my dream come true back in the eighties.)

At our school last week, we were treated to a talk by clinical psychologist, New York Times best selling author, and standup comedian Wendy Mogel who begged us not to ask our kids horrible questions with one word answers such as, “Do you like your teacher?” and “Are you excited for school?” Instead she suggested six words to get a real conversation going: “I thought of you today when …”

That’s easy.

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Earlier this month Troy and I went to the library while Huck was at Sewing and Quilting Camp making fabulous pillows, shoulder bags and mug rugs. After choosing some books, I stood on the second floor staring out a large window overlooking the construction site below for our library expansion. It was quite a view, and I stood there for a few seconds imagining what it will all look like when it’s complete. Then I decided to head downstairs and look for Troy, but I forgot that directly behind me was one of my all-time favorite sculptures. This sculpture isn’t small, it’s actually quite enormous and impossible to miss. Miraculously I ran my body into it as I turned, immediately feeling embarrassed and giggly as I awkwardly gathered my things and shuffled out of the room, gently touching my head as if to assure the onlookers that I was fine. It was such a jarring moment, to go from my sweet daydreaming to hitting a very large, very hard surface, albeit a beautiful one.

I think that’s how it’s going to feel returning to work next week.

Along with a trip to Kansas, the second half of our summer will best be remembered as the time Troy became famous in the neighborhood for building and planting a pumpkin patch. His natural gardening tendencies make it sometimes hard to believe he lived in New York City apartments for 16 years. Most July mornings I can be found reading in my Adirondack chair in the back yard while Troy works on the other side of the fence in our side yard near the street. Approximately every 7.5 minutes I hear a woman’s voice say something like: “That looks so neat! What is it?” Then Troy exclaims in his special farmer-dialect: “It’s a pumpkin patch! I’m tryin’ out pumpkins! What do you think?” Woman’s voice: “I love it! How did you do it?” Sometimes these admirers are simply walking by; sometimes they actually pull over in their car for a bit. All I know is, it happens over and over again.

I think that’s how it’s going to feel returning to work next week.

Ready for High School: To Be Continued.

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Here in Fayetteville we three are enjoying a leisurely summer with no place to go except the pool. Troy and I have been denied the teacher-perk of summers off until now, and so we’re trying to cram years and years of relaxation into a couple months. Or at least I am. Troy is up at the crack of dawn each day swimming laps and working in the yard while Huck and I sleep like angels.

Our summer halfway-mark highs so far include Sunny turning seven (in dog years we three adults are the same age now), our new orange Subaru, the Pride Parade, watching my mom sing to Troy’s ukulele playing, movie-making, Troy’s “On the Row” tour, the Tacketts in our town and their town, “Les Mis” at the Walton Arts Center, Dan & Michele, Lake Michigan and … wait for it … “Hamilton” in Chicago!

How lucky we are to be alive right now!

Our lows: Troy’s four hours at the DMV (the unimaginable), the Margulis-Miller family moving to New Jersey (everything is legal in New Jersey), driving in downtown Chicago completely lost (stay alive, stay alive) and the constant threat of thunderstorms. I’m never satisfied!

Perfectly in character, Huck is ready for high school to start. Troy mentioned something about “missing the kids” the other day. Me? I’m content taking a break, reading my books, floating in my pink innertube, singing the “Hamilton” soundtrack, and sleeping in every morning for a few more months.

That would be enough.

My nephew & niece are GORGEOUS!

It’s possible that “My Shot” will one day replace “Sisters, Sisters” as our go-to number.

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This brag blog was brought to you by Aunt Jeni, who insisted.

Somehow we have an actual high school student living with us now. He can usually be found in his dark bedroom lit by Christmas lights, listening to his favorite music through ear buds with a cup of tea while playing on the computer, knitting or reading as he embraces his brand new, very lazy summer.

In the last few weeks, back when he was a busy eighth grader, Huck had one special event after another, just like every student in America. The month began with his spring piano recital where he played his favorite instrument with poise and great skill, reminding us how far he’s come in a couple of short years. He received the Directors Award at his beautiful orchestra concert followed the next week by Outstanding Musician at his choir concert where we were treated to dynamite “Footloose” choreography. Also at that choir concert he served as the tireless stage hand, bringing out stools, chairs, microphones and even an awkward piano in between his own performances. I knew he was in his element as the kid who will do whatever the adults need him to do. He gets this from his father. Afterwards I didn’t know which I was more impressed by, his art or cooperation.

Next was his elaborate GT puppet show where we finally understood the abstract things he’d been describing to us for months. He took this whimsical project very seriously, and again I found myself equally proud of the puppet construction, creative writing, solid performance and deep commitment to his teacher and classmates.

Then came the end of year Ramay Junior High awards ceremony where he received all kinds of recognition in the form of certificates and shiny medals for his straight As, school involvement and musical achievements. By the time I picked him up after his final final on the last day of school at 10:45am, he was teary-eyed and sentimental, something he gets from me. As he filled the backseat with his end-of-year loot he said, “I just realized I’ve been wandering around with a huge puppet that says FREE MONEY.”

And I hate to brag, but for the first time since we moved here six years ago, we three finally have the summer off together. There’s the usual plans for the pool, reading marathons, travel and sleeping-in, but there’s also a high school reading list for English and biology, the ACT, French & American Revolution musical theatre, the making of a short film and Troy’s four city Prison Stories tour of “On the Row.”

I’m officially ready to embrace my brand new, very lazy summer, too.

Proud Braggers

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I just finished playing the role of a mother described as “manic with grief” in TheatreSquared’s production of Sarah Delappe’s play THE WOLVES. Playing “Soccer Mom” was a strange and wonderful gift, and working at my favorite theatre with my favorite director in my favorite town certainly made these last seven weeks filled with gratitude (and exhaustion). March was the month of many special visitors – Jeni from Illinois, Shannon from Austin, Dusty from California and Natalie from New York – all while I worked on a super-size production of “Seussical” at The New School with my co-teacher extraordinaire Sam. The result of this crazy schedule was some of the most satisfying nights of sleep I’ve ever had, and once while driving home from a full day of work followed by a mid-week show I found myself thinking, “Oh, good. I get to do that thing where I shut my eyes in bed.”

Playing a mom is easy since I am one and have one. Playing grief is easy these days, too.

My mom was diagnosed with dementia last fall, right after her brother (my Uncle Ronnie) died unexpectedly. This weekend my sisters and I will join together in our hometown to help my dad move her into an assisted living facility and this new chapter in their lives, which has arrived much more rapidly than anyone expected. My sisters took the brunt of the hard work beginning in mid-February while I stayed here rehearsing, performing and waiting on text updates and phone calls, and I’m so thankful I’m not an only child. (Sorry, Huck.)

Last night I talked to my mom on the phone about my upcoming visit and her new home, and toward the end she began calling me Shannon. In her confusion, she mistook me for my best friend, someone we’ve both known and loved for many years, someone who has been down this road before with her own mother. It was such a strange and beautiful thing that I put my free hand over my open mouth as if  in a state of shock as I listened to her from hundreds of miles away.

By the time we said goodbye I was Janelle again.

(Update: The move was canceled and my mom is doing well living at home.)

Wesley Hitt, Photographer
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These photos I’ve chosen for Huck’s 14th birthday blog are misleading. A) It takes a lot of convincing and/or bribing to get him to take a walk with us these days, B) He’s slightly crouching down so as not to appear so tall next to me, and C) They were taken last month when he was merely 13. His fanny pack full of Lifesavers, Bandaids, lip balm, snacks and water bottle are all very true to who he is. Also true: he is a perfectionist, a grammar geek, a tea lover, a rule follower, a vegetarian and an introvert. He loves the music of St. Vincent, Dodie, Gorillaz and Pomplamoose and the humor of “Steven Universe” and “The Office.” He’s sensitive, smart, gangly, awkward and prone to nosebleeds. He dislikes hot weather, trying on clothes and nature. He’s organized, anxious, sweet and can talk for several minutes without pausing. He always has a few books he’s reading with a pile waiting. He loves essential oils, candles, ASMR, pens, origami, rainbow flags and hygge. He has a handful of close friends who make him happy, and he loves his teachers. He’s a musician, mathematician and knitter. For Lent, he’s giving up paper towels and snacks between meals.

Happy Birthday to our one-of-a-kind!

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Huck spent last week in Florida with several very close friends, a favorite teacher and over 50 other eighth graders from the two Fayetteville public junior highs. This was the 29th annual GT trip to Epcot, and all the other Disney parks plus Busch Gardens, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure where Harry Potter lives. Huck was very much outside his comfort zone – leaving us for five nights and six days, flying on airplanes without us to keep track of boarding passes, sleeping in a hotel room with boys his age, managing his hard-won $220 spending money from candy bar sales, being the only kid scared to ride roller coasters, and not once getting his preferred nine hours of sleep. But mostly leaving us for five nights and six days.

(I blame attachment parenting. All that co-sleeping, baby-wearing, breastfeeding business from 2005-2007.)

Thankfully, in the midst of discomfort and sleep deprivation, over 1000 photos and videos were taken on Huck’s trusty iPhone, proving that quite a lot of fun was actually had. His highlights, based on the many writing prompts he had to do back at the hotel each night before bed, include a butterbeer at Hogsmeade, Magic Kingdom fireworks, their ’50s themed Pop Century hotel, pizza at Epcot’s Italy (thanks to cousin Heather’s suggestion), the sky ride high above Busch Gardens, the Hogwarts train, dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, and the teacup ride (because we did that with Shannon at Disneyland nearly eight years ago).

Meanwhile to pass the time without him, Troy and I binge watched “Killing Eve” on Hulu, saw a couple plays and a locally shot independent film, gave Sunny some walks at Huck’s least favorite places, stayed out past our bedtime on a school night, and only ran the dishwasher once. I also spent most of my spare time reading Huck’s hundreds of texts, most of which included colorful heart emojis and the words “I love you SO much!”

On Huck’s last day in Orlando, he was the first to wake up in his room. After doing all his morning bathroom rituals, including getting dressed for the day, he decided he’d better wake up his roommates. Thankfully, he checked his phone to see what time it was first, and upon discovering it was somehow only 11:58pm, he awkwardly climbed back into his bed fully dressed and slept until 6:00. Twenty-four hours later, we joined the other well-rested parents at the airport at midnight to take home our tired travelers. Huck’s body finally gave in to the sickness it had been resisting, and he spent the weekend mostly sleeping and chugging water. In between naps, he showed us his souvenirs and pile of receipts, leftover money, his hotel room key bracelet, the pink paper cone that once held butterbeer ice cream from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, his hour-long slide show of pictures and anecdotes, his GT journal, and a Mickey & Minnie DisneyWorld Christmas ornament to join our honeymoon Mickey and Minnie ornament from 1992.

I love him SO much!