new york city kid in arkansas
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Over the past week we celebrated Huck’s 12th birthday many times over with Aunt Jeni’s Annual March Visit, two birthday cakes and a couple dozen cupcakes, the creation of Huck’s Instagram Slime Channel to fulfill his latest obsession, a Quiz Bowl practice complete with surprise Huck-themed trivia questions that his pals mostly aced, an exciting tornado warning that found us huddled together on the floor of our laundry room, a tour of Huck’s future junior high, amazing gfits including 100 grams of gallium, iron filings, an essential oil diffuser, books galore and backgammon, lazy hours in pajamas, an insane thunder and lightening hail storm right at bedtime, the official arrival of our tulips and daffodils, and an afternoon of laser tag with Huck’s BFFs that ended with hot chocolate in Christmas mugs while it snowed. We’ve experienced every season so far this March. Today spring is back.

I was responsible for the gallium Huck received for his birthday. It was nothing he asked for. It was my little surprise, and I now admit I may have made a mistake. Within a few hours Huck had almost completely destroyed our black kitchen counter tops with this substance that is sometimes solid and sometimes liquid and basically has the power to ruin families and appliances. For the rest of the week, Huck left the gallium in a strange solid form on a cooking tray in the kitchen until Saturday morning when I asked him to do whatever it took to get it all back into the containers it came in. After sweetly reminding me that the gallium was my idea, Huck called on Troy to help with this impossible task. Every time I walked through the kitchen I was treated to a Shakespearean-like tragedy that involved Troy wearing his amazing fireplace gloves while attempting to melt the gallium without murdering our son. At one point Huck was leaning against the counter, casually chewing ice from a large bowl while Troy breathed heavily and muttered angry things under his breath. Next thing I knew, Huck was on his bed sobbing because Troy accidentally lost half of the gallium down the drain. I watched from a safe distance as Troy unsuccessfully attempted to pick up the remaining gallium that became liquid every time he touched it. He finally shouted, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!” and it was then that I had to run out of the room so no one would see how hard I was laughing.

Most of our celebrations were with Jeni (including the first gallium disaster) as she has been a birthday fixture since Huck’s very first. Though this year marks the last one before teen-hood, he shows no sign of wanting anything to change. Judging from their heart-wrenching goodbye at the airport, I think this may be going on well into his thirties.

I hope I can come, too.

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A few weeks ago one of my 5th grade students raised his hand and asked, “How’d you get the scar?” I had that feeling rush over me that you get sometimes when you think, “Do I have blueberries in between my front teeth?” or “Did I not put on pants today?” as I tilted my head and quietly asked, “Scar?”  A much sweeter student said, “It’s just a crease on her forehead,” as she shot him a look. After the most awkward silence any of those ten year olds ever heard, I proclaimed with a good-natured laugh, “Old age! Not a scar. OLD AGE!” I spent the rest of the day checking the mirror to see what they saw, and after briefly contemplating Botox (at least for my bitmoji) I decided maybe my daily frustration with that boy has resulted in too much brow furrowing. I prefer my laughter wrinkles.

The other day while wrangling some pretty hyper four year old Strong Men in our pre-K Circus Play, one of them jumped up unexpectedly and hit my chin with his hard little head, causing my mouth to fill with blood.  I ran to the school nurse as if I too was four, and she confirmed that my lip was split pretty deeply but would hopefully heal in moments. The bleeding finally stopped, my lip became swollen as if recently injected with collagen, and I spent the afternoon dwelling on how tense my jaw (and soul) was when trying to control those little ones.

My little one isn’t so little anymore.  A few weeks from his 12th birthday, in three more inches we’ll be exactly eye to eye. He told me the other day while trying to chew food, “I’m down to 18 teeth,” which explains why his grown up face is starting to look like a toddler again when he smiles. This Valentine’s morning our toothless boy gave us a homemade card that said “Three Way Love” with a heart and our three names, along with lots of drawings of things that traditionally have two things (like eyes) that now have three. He then gave his hand a Sharpie tattoo of a three humped heart.

Sometimes the best lesson in parenthood (and teacherhood) is knowing when not to laugh (and cry) out loud.


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Right before returning to school for real, following two days after Christmas break and an unexpected snow day, Huck realized late Sunday afternoon that he needed some supplies for a class project the next morning. For reasons no one understands, Troy loves JoAnn Fabrics more than I can adequately express, so he excitedly volunteered to give them a call and see if they had everything we needed.  From the other room I could hear him asking about what kind of craft sticks they had, his voice loud and cheerful, and then I heard him ask how much they would cost, followed by a very exuberant “HOT DOG!”  It felt overdone to me, and I rolled my eyes internally at Troy’s effervescent joy over the little things.  Huck and I drove over to JoAnn Fabrics to pick up the supplies, and at the checkout the clerk got a twinkle in her eye as she asked, “Did you guys call about these craft sticks?” I said, “Yes, my husband did,” and she began hooting and hollering, “HOT DOG!”  She laughed and laughed, saying over and over again how much Troy’s excitement made her day, how she’d never in her life encountered anyone more happy over something like that. Other people standing around began smiling over her account, and once we got back in the car I told Huck, “Oh, if only we could all make people’s day like your dad can.”

A few days after this event, Huck got sick for the first time in years, causing Troy and I to flutter through the house looking for a thermometer as we asked questions like, “Does he take grown-up pills now?” We were just hoping he would get well in time for Saturday morning’s county spelling bee and Grandma Judy’s visit, but we also had our hearts set on him attending a full week of school and us attending a full week of work at some point in 2017. Huck did make it to the spelling bee and lasted until round seven when he misspelled “graffiti” and made me question his New Yorker status. That night in bed Troy and I argued over the correct spelling of “graffiti,” and I was correct.

HOT DOG!

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Christmas Break is like first falling in love.  You can’t possibly sustain all the wonderful feelings in everyday normal life, but it sure is fun for a time.  We have been overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, overhiking, overtalking and overlaughing for over a week now.  I think I’m developing bed sores from sleeping in every morning and pruney skin syndrome from too many bubble baths. There’s a Danish word for cozy called “hygge” (pronounced hue-guh) that perfectly describes the essence of what I aspire to be at all times, and I think we’ve even outhygged ourselves. We’ve sung carols, lit our Advent wreathe, opened presents, looked at lights, watched movies, rented a cabin, sat by fires, mourned celebrities, read books, climbed a mountain, made cookies, ate cookies, opened cards, enjoyed St. Louis visitors and played with our new toys. Sunny received two large bones in her stocking and has spent the week burying them, digging them up, and burying them again, over and over, delaying her gratification for another time unlike the rest of us. If I never eat another chocolate morsel, salted carmel or toffee treat I will be happy.

Easy & uneventful January, like a wonderful old marriage, we are almost ready for you.

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Home for Christmas has a new meaning for us, now that we have our very own home on Anne Street, and if you’re picturing us in patterned sweaters all warm and cozy in front of the fireplace where the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, you are exactly right (though we don’t always stay in that pose). The days leading up to Christmas have found Troy warming cinnamon on the stovetop, watching the birds flock to our feeder out the dining room window, and sweetly delivering our cookies (covered in Huck’s homemade frosting) and cards to new neighbors. Huck, now a vegetarian, apologized to Troy for messing up the turkey Christmas dinner plans and Troy answered, “Huck, if you really stick to being a vegetarian like your mom, you’re going to spend your life apologizing to people.  You will never have to apologize to us.” Me, I keep wrapping presents and running errands and typing the words of prisoners and convincing Huck to watch another episode of “Lost” (we’re up to 3!), so thankful for great big breaks with our son who is just as sweet as his dad.

Merry Christmas, wherever you are!

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Last week Huck began to crack, showing signs of middle school anxiety by occasionally dropping things and shouting, “I’m just too stressed out!” His brief tantrums are like tiny versions of mine, as if he’s a crank-pot in training without coming close to the master’s skills. I always get a secret kick out of his stress attacks because they’re so short-lived.  I’m positive as soon as he walks out the door he’s forgotten the upcoming piano recital, the Math Olympiad national test and the school spelling bee.  To be a true ball of stress, one needs to keep these problems in one’s heart at every moment. He’s not like that.

Thursday evening Huck and I sat down to study his words for the next day’s spelling bee.  The lights were low, as they usually are in our cozy living room, and because the font is small and because I’m 46, I could not exactly see the words, nor did I know how to pronounce most of them.  In order to read the words on the paper I had to take off my glasses, but to type the word into Dictionary.com for the pronunciation I had to put my glasses back on.  This went on for a while with my blood pressure rapidly increasing. The word “prestidigitation” finally was the last straw for me, and practically throwing the paper across the dark room I shouted: “Turn on the lights!  This list is ridiculous!  Why would you kids need to spell these words?  Half of them are French!  I can’t even see in here!” It felt a little like George Bailey’s Christmas Eve tirade.

While I respect the idea behind spelling bees and the kind of children it attracts (wonderfully brainy, nerdy types that are my favorite), I have to wonder who invented such a tortuous idea.  Standing on a stage at a microphone spelling words out loud?  Why?  Why do we do this?  Why do we do this to our mothers who have to sit in the audience with no control, watching their babies under such unnatural pressure?  Why must we watch other mother’s babies fail and walk off the stage with their heads held low?  It’s my least favorite part of motherhood, but somehow I am always the parent who has to attend. Luckily I have my friend Padma always sitting next to me, sometimes squeezing my hand, always with the same nauseous feeling, because our sons are always among the last ones standing. In fact, her son Ravi got that awful word and spelled it with ease.

In the end Huck won the spelling bee with his best friend Ravi right behind him. As I let out a very long sigh of relief that it was over, that my stomach could return to its regular state, that my heart could stop pounding through my sweater, Huck ran up to me, plopped his big body onto my lap and handed me the gigantic packet of study words for the county bee in January.

Oh, God.

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There’s a nightmare scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey, a man who always put his desires behind the greater good of his neighbors and fellow citizens, discovers that his humble town of Bedford Falls has been transformed into a loud, violent city called Pottersville, under the leadership of a selfish and rich buffoon who “hates everybody that has anything that he can’t have.” For those of us who have memorized every line of that Christmas classic, it’s an almost unbearable scene. We know goodness will prevail, love will win in the end, but that 20 minutes of George Bailey getting to see the world without him feels like four years.

Every December I pull up my address labels in preparation for Troy’s Christmas card, and every year there are always a few names to delete because of death and divorce and a few names to add because of birth, marriage and new friends. It always pulls at my heartstrings, the way things can change in a year.  Troy is most sentimental about our 25 years worth of ornaments, keeping track of our collection on an old piece of paper in a red hard cover Santa book, reading the list of every single ornament as Huck and I begin hanging them on the tree. He even keeps a ziplock baggie of pine needles from our past trees, sprinkling them onto the new one, hoping to blend in the past with the present. Over Thanksgiving we found a five-year diary that belonged to Troy’s grandma, who began recording little moments of her life in 1942, the year she became pregnant with Troy’s mom.  Each date had space for five years of entries, but the book is sadly empty as she stopped writing sometime in 1943, probably because of the demands of motherhood. “Gene Twyford” was one of the names deleted from my address labels last week, but she also added two antique ornaments to our collection, blending her past with our present.  Troy wrote in the Santa Book: “2016 – Pine cone ornaments – one with cardinals, one with rabbits.  G-ma Gene.”

After watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” last night, some New York friends made the startling realization that 62 million Americans just voted for Mr. Potter, unimaginably choosing Pottersville over Bedford Falls. Back in mid-July I posted Hilary Clinton’s campaign slogan as my Facebook profile pic, and there it still sits as a reminder, a remnant from the past that will take me into the future.  I’ll put up our ornaments, I’ll sign our cards, and just like last month and many before that, I’ll remember that I’m still with her, I’m still with Standing Rock, I’m still with the immigrant, the poor, the prisoner, the non-straight, the non-white, the non-Christian and everyone else who isn’t like me. Because this white, middle-aged, middle-class, lefty Episcopalian from Arkansas by way of New York City thinks that’s actually what the little event in Bethlehem was all about.

Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls.

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As I begin the process of putting the words of women prisoners into a Google Doc for our February reading, I came across this a couple days after Thanksgiving …

I fear the abnormalness of my family,
I fear the ordinariness of my family,
although I’ve learned normal is an illusion.
What’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.
When life was what seemed upside down and twisted around
was when I found the most love and comfort in a rainbow or sunset
as if God was showing me what to focus on.

We were in Kansas when I typed those words, happily sitting alone at my sister inlaw’s dining room table while the rest of the family watched a holiday movie. I could hear their laughter from downstairs, making me pause at the juxtaposition of it all. I had my own rainbow and sunset moments during our time away, trying to focus less on the upside-down twisted-around world that has made me feel more sad than thankful these last few weeks. My sunsets were sipping wine with my dad around the firepit, taking a brisk fall walk on a trail I didn’t know existed in my hometown with my husband, son & dog, watching a Hallmark Christmas movie with my mom on her birthday, snuggling with my niece and nephew, going through Troy’s grandma’s treasures, a Saturday afternoon nature walk with my inlaws, and taking in the beauty of Christmas lights with family from both sides all mixed together. There was much laughter, love and absolute avoidance of the political reality that must have been on all of our hearts and minds.

For this, I am oh so thankful.


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This has been a painful season of president-electing for us. Never have I wished I could un-hear such hateful words and mean ideas as I have over the past few months. For parents attempting to raise children in a world that rejects bullying, sexism and racism in favor of love and compassion, it has been impossible to explain how someone like Donald Trump could get this far.  Last night felt tragic, this morning like a nightmare.

But then Huck, who has become passionately political during this election, received an email from his friend’s dad, and since it finally released all the terrified, angry and heartbreaking tears I’ve been on the brink of shedding since June, I thought it belonged here. This afternoon I am thankful for friends most of all.

To Huck, Esmé & Maren:

I wanted to share this with you today. You three, plus your group of friends, are extraordinary and I love you guys.  I don’t want to see you discouraged and I don’t want you to feel defeated. Last night was tough. We’re sad. It was truly unthinkable that Trump could win. But he did, of course. Now what do we do? That’s the question I’ve been asking.

I spoke to my friend, Ted last night. We went to architecture school together. He lives in Virginia.  Sometimes we don’t talk to each other for a whole year or more, but he’s my good friend anyway.  We both felt confident and happy that Hillary would win. We wished each other luck and promised to see each other soon. This morning, he sent me the following text:

“Let this inspire us to seek the best in ourselves and to do our best work.”

That was a good thing for me to consider on this scary and discouraging morning. I wanted to share it with you along with a few of my thoughts on what that might mean.

I suggest we have more of these things. I hope you’ll join me:

1. More time with friends, sleepovers, and spontaneous opportunities to hang out, movies, plays, meet-ups, roller skating, you name it. Let’s have some fun!

2. More independence – you guys are getting old enough to begin doing more things together on your own. Let’s explore some possibilities.

3. More time in nature.  Let’s get outside. Let’s go camping or take a hike. It’s a beautiful world. Sometimes I get too focused on the problems. It’s always good for the heart to get out and breathe.

4. More of your best work – I am in awe of the creative force that you and your group of friends possess.  You guys are like wizards in training or something! I’m not joking!  I see the ways you interact and it inspires me every day! So work and play. Do your boring, tedious homework, do it quickly, do it well, and get it out of the way so you can get to the real high-value work of drawing, writing, acting, performing, singing, exploring, making.  You do that so naturally and those are the most important things! When you nurture expression, you nurture yourself.

5. More compassion – support each other and your friends.  Be kind and look for people that may feel excluded.  There’s a lot of talk right now about ‘them and they.’  ‘They’ are dangerous.  ‘They’ come across the border and take our jobs.‘They’ are not like us.  We should be afraid of ‘them.’  Nope. We are all human and we are all unique. Don’t allow anyone to be excluded because of who they are. We’re better than that. The only distinction I observe among us is that there are those of us who live in fear and those who choose love.  Love is the root of courage and compassion.

6. Talk to your parents or Stacey or me any time. I can only speak for myself. I’m an old dude. I may be the only one that gets my jokes. But I’m here and I’ve seen a lot and I think a lot. If you’re feeling unsure about anything and would like to ask me what I think, I’d be honored to share my perspective with you. Also, I’m sure your parents would offer the same to any of you.

I also recommend less of a few things too:

1. Don’t focus on news media – especially network and cable news.  Understand that by holding your attention, they can sell advertising to corporations.  And they use fear (see item 5 above) to hold your attention. It is a distraction from your most important work (see item 4! – see how this is working?). When I want to watch things, it’s YouTube Maker videos for me, baby! Jimmy DiResta, Laura Kampf.  I can’t get enough!

2. Don’t focus on what Trump’s doing (or anyone else for that matter).  Rather, focus on what you’re going to do (See item 4 again!). Maybe think of it in terms of what you’re doing in contrast to what the world is focusing on. While all of that fear and angst is channeled on things that are unproductive, you can make the world more beautiful and compassionate.

3. Don’t be afraid. This world is beautiful and you’re living at the best time in its history. Just before Maren was born, which, obviously was around the same time you all came into this world, I was very discouraged and afraid.  I told a friend that I didn’t know what kind of world my little girl would arrive to find.  My friend got very serious with me and told me something that I try to remember always.  She said, “Look around you, look at the people around you, look at the places around you. Everywhere you see beauty and love.  We are safe and warm at night. We have the incredible privilege to do our best work and care for each other in our families and community. Don’t let anyone distract you from that. Your daughter will arrive in a beautiful time and place.”  It’s really true in so many ways.

You’re fantastic! I’m lucky to know you! If anybody moves to Canada, be prepared for me to visit.  I’d like one of those big furry hats and an impossibly large-pattern red and black plaid woolen shirt – maybe some of those knee-high moccasins too (with my woolen pants tucked-in).  I’ll grow out my beard like the ZZ Top guys.  You’ll feel proud walking down the street with me.  Think about that.

Now, let’s do cool stuff!
Bret


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The night before Halloween Huck and I were reminiscing about something from pre-K and so began the search through my photo album collection (which grew exponentially right around 2005) to find the pictures from the memory, which is so much better than going through a computer.  Huck got sidetracked looking through one of the many, many books, and after discovering how cute he and his friends used to be he sweetly sighed, “Ohhh, Mom, thank you for doing all these.” On behalf of moms everywhere, in my heart I secretly fainted with my tongue hanging out of my mouth and my arms splayed out on the floor for a few seconds before regaining my composure and saying, “You’re welcome.”

Here are some October pictures for the next album, to be appreciated in about seven years.