new york city kid in arkansas
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Shortly before Huck was born 18 years ago tonight, I remember looking at his future high chair and saying something like, “Wait a minute. The baby will always be with us? Like all the time?” It was as if up until that moment he was an abstract idea, a so-called “baby of ours,” not a future roommate, not someone we’d share our lives with day in and day out. Suddenly it seemed so permanent – in a good way maybe – but still, very permanent.

Fast forward to the night he was born, and we never wanted him to leave our sight.

Fast forward some more, and this year Huck’s high school choir has been singing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin.” More than once we’ve been in the audience as he and his classmates sang this to their parents:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Happy 18th Birthday to our favorite person, our favorite topic of conversation, our favorite mystery, our favorite permanent fixture.

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When Huck was a four year old New Yorker, we scheduled a written test through the neighborhood public school to see if he qualified for the random city lottery of gifted and talented elementary schools. While Troy and I were a little horrified at this reality – not being fans of standardized tests per se – it was a dream come true for Huck. For months afterwards he would ask us to sit at the table and give him a pretend test, mostly interpreting abstract drawings. He scored off the charts on the real test and was put into the coveted lottery. We toured some gin and tonic schools – or whatever they’re called – and had our eyes on one in particular near the Museum of Natural History. Sure, it shared its old building with another school and would be a terrible commute each morning and afternoon, but New York parents will do anything! We began secretly making plans about this amazing (and free!) New York City education our child was about to receive.

But he did not win the lottery. He would attend a regular New York City school after all.

There was a spot for him at a nearby public school called Muscota that prided itself on a progressive education, one of our favorite words. And for three years Huck thrived there as a dancer, actor, artist, student council representative, and Roman numeral expert until we decided to pack it up and move down south.

Fast forward 13 years and here we are again, frantically searching for Huck’s future. Instead of a little G&T test, he’s writing essays, making videos, and answering all kinds of questions about himself and his accomplishments. The perfect grades and test scores aren’t nearly enough for the schools he loves with 6% acceptance rates; he has to somehow set himself apart from the hundreds of thousands of students with the same grades and test scores. On the first of November he applied Early Decision to the University of Chicago, and we began secretly making plans about this amazing (and totally not free) education our child was about to receive.

But he lost that lottery, too. After delaying their admission announcement by four days and nearly killing me, UChicago said no to Huck. And while we knew it was a long shot – so few spots and so many thousands of applicants – it still felt like crushing news to us fragile parents and Wichita State University grads. Huck, on the other hand, handled the disappointment like he always handles such things – something about being an Enneagram Nine. He began working on the other college applications due in the next week or two, taught me how to play Gin Rummy, and went to Target with friends. I quietly took down our favorite UChicago postcard from the fridge and resisted throwing it in the fireplace.

And then our friend Padma sent Huck and me an email. Padma and I have been co-parenting since we met in 2013, and she’s going through similar emotions with her high school senior. We’ve together weathered summer lemonade stands in Arkansas heat, cut-throat junior high spelling bees, and November 2016. Her mother voluntarily led the advanced math group for Huck friends in 3rd-6th grade to keep them stimulated and challenged. Being our favorite published novelist and creative writing professor, Padma met with Huck this fall to read his essays over tea and Indian snacks, giving him invaluable lessons in life. She sees the eight year old in him and the 30 year old at the same time. They will always be friends.

Her supportive and uplifting email ended with this line: “Meanwhile, stay warm in front of your fire and see you on the 25th for Geoff’s famous veggie lasagne and some games!” And that was what it took to finally release the tears of motherhood. Something about the cheerful reminder of the joys of life: a fire in the midst of zero temps, food made with love, and games. Always games.

Muscota turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to this family. I can’t wait to find out the next one.

Spelling Bee Champs

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Still out of breath over here, running alongside Huck on his journey to college, my questions still punishable by death stares. Months ago one of my student’s parents told me that she loved her oldest son’s senior year of high school and found the college application process to be very exciting. I tried to be like her; I failed immediately. I saw a meme the other day that said, “I try to be nonchalant, but under the surface I’m chalant AF.” This is my new life motto.

We went to Kansas for Thanksgiving, and pretty quickly Huck had lots of questions to answer over and over again with me, again, running alongside trying to finish sentences that I felt could be more concise and clear to these grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins that haven’t learned words like “Early Decision.” One night he sat with his Aunt Tina talking for over an hour (like the old friends they are) about anxiety for the future he’s trying so hard to get. I was in and out of the room, so nonchalant, hearing things like: “This is the first time in my life I don’t actually know where I’ll be in ten months.”

You know how God made babies really cute so we don’t kill them? I similarly feel that God made high school seniors unbearable to their parents so we’re ready for them to move far, far away in, say, ten months. My sister recently sent me another meme with this definition of College: “The opposite of kidnapping. They demand a huge amount of money or they’ll send your kid back home.”

But of course all of this is just me trying to be nonchalant. Underneath my heart palpitations and insomnia, I too am fearful of this unknown future that requires essays, applications, and an absurd amount of financial information. PBS NewsHour commentator and Washington Post writer Michael Gerson died recently, and this is an essay he wrote in 2013 about taking his oldest son to college:

Michael Gerson Essay

Here’s the part that really got me: “Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story.” We are at the end of giving Huck most everything he needs to begin his life without us, or at least with us playing much smaller roles. Until that moment comes, here I’ll be, out of breath, chalant AF.

(Top B&W Picture by Aunt Tina & her New Phone)

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This morning Facebook reminded me that 11 years ago today Huck began riding his little yellow bike along the Hudson River without training wheels. Troy captured me running slowly alongside our helmeted six year old as he began learning to navigate around and behind other New Yorkers on feet, bikes, rollerblades, leashes, and in strollers. As always when these memories come crashing into my present day life, I smiled and remembered the day well. But mostly I became fixated on the still image of my 41 year old self jogging beside him, because it feels like the perfect symbol of parenthood: exhausting and terrifying supporting role.

Nowadays it’s all about navigating the road to college, wherever that may lead, sans helmet. Me running alongside shouting encouraging commands while Huck fills out applications, writes essays, attends a model class over Zoom, meets with his counselor, and gathers letters of recommendation does not sit well with our serious scholar. A few weeks ago he drafted a very hardcore contract for each of us to sign which stated that we will have weekly check-in meetings and a deadline document created by him. If I want to ask a question, I have to first call an additional meeting which might be vetoed. Emergency meetings can be called at any time and never vetoed, but they must not be abused. After I signed my name, Huck explained in all seriousness, “I made this contract to protect me from you.”

Awkward silence.

So I’m trying to play it cool over here, trusting that he is somehow managing all this extra work on top of his usual load as deadlines loom. I’ve learned words like Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision, National Merit, FAFSA, net cost calculator, and Common App. I try not to monopolize every conversation with my favorite topic. I feel mildly obsessed, like maybe I should become a college counselor. I live for our weekly check-ins and am dying for one of my family members to call an additional meeting so I can ask questions. (I’ve already called one and could feel the annoyance from them both.) Today on the phone my dad said, “Nothing is worse than worrying about your child. It’s so much worse than worrying about yourself.”

Our family contract greets me every time I enter the kitchen, held to our fridge by a powerful magnet. That same fridge whose ice dispenser only sometimes dispenses ice, next to our sink who’s garbage disposal needs replacing, near the counter where our favorite bowl (and wedding gift from 30 years ago) sits with a huge piece broken off. This too feels like a symbol of parenthood these days: tired, well-used, in need of repair. But still we put on our running shoes and do an imaginary little jog alongside our brave adventurer.

Fayetteville High School, Senior Year

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For 17 very hot days in July, we three rode in planes, trains, and many cars to see colleges, family, friends, and the ocean. Our hero and homebody Huck has his eyes on very far away schools, and so off we went to see them in person. Thanks to years of living in Chicago and New York City, we were the thankful recipients of amazing hospitality beginning and ending in Davenport, Iowa. (This trip was brought to you by Jeni & Nathan, Dan & Michele, Lisa & Martin, Kristin & Andrew, Jen & Carl!) The predictable outcome? Huck’s top schools are MIT and University of Chicago. We saw many other fine contenders that Huck will apply to – some with official tours and others with us awkwardly walking around pointing to pretty buildings – and we will continue looking closer to home as well. Another predictable outcome? Fayetteville has made the Schremmers soft. The East Coast felt brutal at times with its fast traffic, lack of parking and public restrooms, and expensive price tags. Thank goodness for its fine people and ocean.

Things we learned about our hero on this journey: He can survive on little food. It takes him about six hours to crochet a tote bag. He felt a real connection at U-Chicago. He can drink more La Croix than anyone we’ve ever known. The next time he visits New York will be for a full week and he won’t be rushed to do anything. He’s a good highway driver. He does not like most school colors. He has a morbid sense of humor, especially with his cousin Lily. He’s an Enneagram Type 9 Peacemaker until he snaps and wants to kill me. He loves that MIT is full of whimsy. He wants to double major in math and French, perhaps teach math in Paris someday. He loves the beach at night. He will not consider a school whose dorms are not air conditioned. He really missed his friends during our time away. And lastly, he loses important things regularly like AirPods (found), crochet needle (found), overpriced phone charger (not found), wallet and keys (not found).

Next on our journey: college applications, financial aid forms, essay writing, and a trip to the DMV.

Leaving the Ordinary World

The Call to Adventure: University of Chicago!

The Mentor, Dan, in Recliner

A Walk Through our Old NYC Neighborhood!

Huck’s Magic Tree

Most of Huck’s Toddlerhood was Spent on those Swings

Princeton with the Miller-Margulis Family: Mafia Experts!

Princeton University

A Dream Come True with the Dackows in Madison!

New Jersey Transit: The Supreme Ordeal

I Suffered Heat Stroke During the Columbia University Tour.

I Made a Full Recovery at Tom’s.

Walking Around Yale Like Idiots

Cape Cod!

A Very Quick Visit to the Ocean While Our Hero Waited in the Car Because He Hates Beaches in Daylight

Seizing the Sword at MIT!  (Hero’s Journey Theme Beginning to Feel Forced)

Walking Around Harvard like Idiots in the Rain

Tired Hero

Last Night in Cape Cod

Dramatic Hero

Marking the passing of time with these VERY tall toddlers!

Same Kids & More, Similar Cookie 2013

Michigan State University – Huck No Longer Poses Normally

The Road Back to Chicago!

More Proof of the Passing of Time: Baby Noah’s 21!

I Wish You All Could Have Seen this Routine.

No Trip to Chicago is Complete Without Troy & Alice Gardening

Cousin Laughter in Davenport Before Returning Home with the Elixir of Knowledge of All Things College Tour Related!

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Happy Summer! It’s that magical time when we Schremmers are officially used to zero structure, the smell of sunscreen and bug spray, the sounds of tree frogs, cold air conditioning, waking up without alarms, the drive to the pool, and finding the best shady spots in the backyard. June gave us a visit to Kansas, the Pride Parade, our second boosters, “Stranger Things,” books, plays, personality tests, and Troy’s sunflowers, pinball league, plantar fasciitis, and library concerts. One of these things is not as fun as the others.

On the first day of July (being a very sentimental person who never forgets an important date), I reminded Huck that 18 years ago we found out I was pregnant with him. Also being a very sentimental person, he took my hand and led me to his desk where he pulled out a file folder filled with my love notes over the years. Something about when I’m dead he’ll read them and cry.

On the second day of July Huck applied to the University of Arkansas in order to take math classes there his senior year as I sat next to him playing Mahjong on my laptop, ready to offer answers (or a credit card) when he needed them. I rarely win this game but when I do, it rewards my success with a distant little pitiful volcano eruption and the words “great job.” I showed this to Huck and we laughed as he answered basic questions on the application. He became frustrated when we had to pay for his ACT scores to be sent to the school and he asked, “Why is it so hard to win?” I stopped what I was doing and silently pondered this profound, yet confusing, question. What did he feel he was losing? What did he need to win in this moment? Does he somehow feel like a loser? Then he pointed to my game and said, “In Mahjong. Why is it so hard to win?”

On the third day of July Sunny turned ten, making me question my general feeling that she’s still our new dog in our new town. And that brings us to today, the fourth day of July when the night will be filled with sounds of violence, reminding us of the absurdity of it all.

To quote my beautiful summer book, Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land: “Though it will seem simple at first, it’s actually quite complicated. No, no, it will seem complicated at first, but it’s actually quite simple.”

To July!

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Toward the end of my niece Lily’s high school graduation ceremony last weekend, her principal looked out at the class of ’22 and said, “Let your parents take pictures this afternoon. Remember that for them this is like your first day of kindergarten, and they’re having trouble keeping up. Be kind; time flies.” My little sister Jeni next to me became a puddle of tears as she vividly pictured Lily at age five climbing up into a yellow school bus with her name on an index card safety pinned to her dress. The next day we dried our tears, and the three of us went to Home Goods to shop for Lily’s dorm room at KU, making plans for future slumber parties. I secretly began picturing her college graduation.

These last few weeks have been all about endings and milestones, as May always is. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a getaway to beautiful Mt. Magazine, and Huck finished his junior year with stellar grades and various certificates of achievements. I attended our school’s commencement ceremony and said goodbye to some special students, and all three of us are now enjoying a summer break filled with “Stranger Things” and plans to visit family, friends, and colleges soon. I’ve been rehearsing for the next time Huck and I bicker over some issue that relates to my need for control and his for independence. I plan to say in my best choked-up mother-voice, “Be kind! Time flies!” I’ll let you know how that goes.

Thanks for letting us take pictures, Lily.

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Needing a few more cups to fill our dishwasher, I went into Huck’s bedroom the other day knowing his messy desk and nightstand wouldn’t let me down. His room always smells faintly of tea, candles, incense, Bath & Bodyworks, and there are always blinking fairy lights on timers to keep you company. Sometimes I glance at his white board and get some insight into his to-do list, jokes with friends, math equations, or favorite song lyrics like this:

Later he explained this is from a song he loves called “You’re Not Special, Babe” by Orla Gartland who he suspects I will like. He said the lyrics comfort him in a funny way, reminding him of things his best friends tell him when he’s stressed, that he’s doing fine, and “we all go from heartbreak to happy to heartbreak.” He’s not special, babe.

(Oh, but he is.)

Our spring break was part happy and part heartbreak, just like the song says. Time spent with dear friends in Austin, the death of our friend Matt here in Fayetteville, laughter with friends, crying with friends, a Saturday brunch, a Friday funeral, flower planting, Huck’s stomach bug, a Razorback win, a Razorback loss, many sunny dog walks, and the passing of a favorite family dog yesterday. Our spring break began and ended with loss, but there was a lot of happy in the middle.

As our friend and poet Matt once wrote: “There is no world until all our friends arrive there.”

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Somehow this is my first blog post of 2022 and the only year ever to skip Huck’s birthday. The other night I had a dream that I took a nap, woke up and discovered I’d lost my baby Mabel. I ran all around some strange house and neighborhood looking for her, shocked that I’d been so negligent. Back in the 1990s Jamie and Paul Buchman from “Mad About You” named their baby Mabel, and when she’s a teenager complaining about it, Jamie patiently explains that the name means “Mothers Always Bring Extra Love.”  I’m no dream expert, but whoa. I think I was dreaming about this poor, neglected blog.

So here’s a little recap.

Back in early February I walked through snow in my flip flops to our Adirondack chairs to read in the sunshine. It was like two different seasons in the same back yard and a perfect example of the February Twilight Zone that Troy and I had been living in. First there was the snow and ice that closed the town down and forced us to reschedule our annual Circus Play, then there was Troy’s Covid diagnosis, then there was my Covid diagnosis, then there were three straight negative tests in a row for Huck, who was deeply disappointed and slammed a door or two. No one wanted a break from school more than Huck, but he was going to have to depend on the weather for that and not the pandemic.

This year so far has been about snow days, canceled and rescheduled plans, touches of spring, The ACT, SAT and All-State Choir for Huck, a trip to Kansas for me, Troy’s children’s book, my Wizard of Oz production, planning college visits over the summer, and snow in tomorrow’s forecast.

But perhaps most important, Aunt Jeni came for her annual visit to celebrate Huck’s birthday this last weekend. At 17, Huck has a very part-time career editing videos, maintaining websites, and creating Power Point presentations. He’s a junior in high school with no social media. He’s an academic, a procrastinator, and a lover of manicures, rings, incense, tea, the French language, and Apple products. He wants to go to MIT and one day be a math or physics professor. His hair is the envy of every woman he meets, and he wears white Converse with tiny red lips all over them. He regularly burdens me with his stresses and then yells at me when I nag him. The best advice I get is to let him fail, to stop reminding him of all his deadlines, to let him grow up. But I can’t. I just have too much extra love.

When I told Huck about my dream, he suggested it was about him and the future. At 17, he’s also sensitive. Whatever its meaning, it had a happy ending when someone found Mabel and she was fine, thank goodness. Just like this trusty old blog. To make up for my long nap, here are pictures from the last 68 days. Happy New Year!