new york city kid in arkansas
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This spring break we got Huck a new bike whose color matches the beginnings of the season, and we finally fixed Troy’s old bike. We discovered the decade-old HBO miniseries “John Adams” and this great new show called “The Voice,” now in its 14th season. We went on dog walks, bike rides, family hikes, short runs and long dentist appointments together. We read many books and we played many board games, all of which I won by some strange streak of spring break luck. Huck taught himself to make more homemade tortillas than our family could possibly eat. We sent Troy to the eye doctor and got him some glasses that cost more than his entire collection of “readers” from Dollar Tree. Some of us played laser-tag and video games while others of us slept in each and every blessed morning. We planted marigolds, basil, sunflowers, petunias and other magical things, and we took our allergy medicine. We sat in front of our fireplace when the weather felt more like winter; on other days we got suntans. This morning we waved palms. And we finally replaced our refrigerator’s water filter.

In other words, we took the whole week off.

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Today Huck woke up, filmed himself on his iPhone playing the viola for homework, watched his annual Pi Day video from YouTuber Vi Hart while eating breakfast, debated whether or not to wear his hexaflexagon t-shirt in honor of the special day, discussed how on earth to bring home the box of Yankee Candles that we and other friends had ordered for his choir fundraiser, and finally headed off to school with plans to participate in this morning’s National School Walkout, fully supported by his public junior high and his parents, to protest gun violence and honor those who lost their lives.

Just another day in 2018.

Meanwhile we continue to find love notes from Aunt Jeni, who was with us all last weekend for her 14th annual March visit. Aside from our car breaking down in the grocery store parking lot and having to be towed to our trusty mechanics, we had a typically delightful time full of conversation, laughter, board games, walks, Arkansas sunshine and Rolos. I present a small fraction of our photos …

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And just like that, we have a 13 year old child. Just kidding! There was nothing “just like that” about it. Thirteen years is forever! Think of all the laughs and firsts and tears and stories and songs and friends and disappointments and time-outs and homework and lessons and books and holidays and colds and fevers and field trips and play dates and seasons and rules and meals and snacks and fights and presents and games and vacations and video games and TV shows and heartbreaks and snuggles. One evening a little over 13 years ago I looked at the many new baby items littering our tiny New York apartment and said to Troy, who was fresh out of therapy for parenthood panic: “The baby is going to always be with us. Like all the time.” This was followed by profound silence as we together realized we’d forgotten that the abstract was about to become very concrete.

I think this picture perfectly sums up 13 years of parenting. Happy birthday to our favorite person whose intelligence, talents, tolerance, kindness, bossiness and wit make everything a beautiful mixture of both the abstract and concrete. Like all the time.

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We’re not big Valentine’s Day celebrators around here, maybe because so many of our February fourteenths over the years have found at least one of us sick, as if on cue. But we always manage homemade cards for me, chocolates for Troy and small gifts for Huck. This year’s was especially busy thanks to Ash Wednesday, and by the time we were all back home in our pajamas and matching forehead crosses, Huck had us working on his radio show class project. Around the two hour mark his school laptop froze and everything was lost, including all of my Foley work, though I hate to make this about me. I hugged our sobbing, delirious child and shot Troy a look that reminded him whose idea it was to have a baby. We finally convinced Huck it was not the end of the world, there’s always tomorrow, his teacher is not a monster and will understand. He went to bed and we ended the day venting about junior high, group projects, homework and hormones. At some point I cleaned my dirty forehead with a washcloth and felt we may have entered a whole new low in the Valentine’s Day department.

Cue the ear infection!

A few weeks ago Huck was asked to attend a Sadie Hawkins dance by his very good friend Cassidy who goes to a different school. His lack of interest in dances and romance was canceled out by their years of friendship, and so he agreed to go. Together he and I spent Saturday afternoon shopping for “semi-formal” clothing, texting Troy dressing room photos for his approval. Once we got home I sat back and observed the Troy-led tutorials on tie-tying and hat-wearing, hoping I could get through the evening without posting a picture on social media with the cutline: OMG I’M DYING OVER THIS OUTFIT! We three joined Cassidy and her parents for a delicious pre-dance dinner at their house, joked about Huck putting some pita bread in his jacket pocket for later, and then wished them all luck as we went off into the night to reclaim our failed Valentine’s day. They lasted 45 minutes at the “awful, loud” dance, and then went back to her place for board games in their fancy outfits while Troy and I were across town watching a movie in our pajamas.

Sometimes that’s all you need.

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Troy and I have been working side by side, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for a week now directing the pre-K extravaganza and New School tradition that is The Circus Play. There have been highs; there have been lows. The other day I knelt down on the lobby floor with all of the Super Strong Kids so that we could practice the lyrics of their song before entering the theatre. A little tiny boy about the size of my arm made a terrible face and backed away from me. I kept singing, though my confidence was fading fast. He then began gasping for air, coughing as if he might die, and shouted: “SHE JUST BLEW HER BAD BREATH ALL OVER ME!” Minutes later another little boy told me I was Mr. Troy’s mommy. I explained that I was actually Mr. Troy’s WIFE (which we’ve been over many times). He said, “You will BECOME Mr. Troy’s mommy.” I insisted that I would NEVER be Mr. Troy’s mommy, but that I was actually a mommy to Mr. Troy’s SON, which sounded scandalous and was met with skeptical faces. Moments after that another boy hugged me tightly and announced, “You smell SO good!” Still, as soon as I had a free minute I grabbed five Lifesavers and vowed never to have coffee right before rehearsal.

Sometimes in the evenings we recover from our prekindergarten trauma by watching something on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, and we’ve discovered that some of our favorite shows are somewhat Huck friendly, especially if we let him “multi-task,” which means play Minecraft on the laptop and only half-pay attention to the TV. This was particularly helpful during the long Christmas break with no bed time in sight for our 12 year old who always likes to be in the same room with us. We were pretty happy to discover that our beloved Tig Notaro’s show One Mississippi was perfect for the three of us, until it wasn’t. I may forever suffer post-traumatic stress from the moment when everything went wrong very quickly and without warning. I began shouting back and forth in an alarming voice: “DON’T LOOK AT THE TV! TURN THE TV OFF! DON’T LOOK AT THE TV! TURN THE TV OFF!” Troy panicked and stood in front of our enormous TV that we’d just inherited from a friend, making us regret the decision for a minute there. Huck stared intensely at his little screen, wondering what he was missing but having a vague idea due to the incredible sound system on the new TV. When finally Troy remembered how to turn it completely off, I put my head into my hands and hyperventilated for a while. Troy would later say something like, “It’s pretty funny that Huck’s first encounter with a TV sex scene involved a double mastectomy, CGI boobs and his mother screaming.” Thank God for Black-ish.

This week our Circus Play will come and go, and by the weekend we’ll have moved on to new adventures with new problems and new to-do lists. I just read Thornton Wilder’s Our Town with my 7th and 8th grade drama students, kids old enough to never mention my bad breath but not quite old enough to truly appreciate a great play or watch Tig Notaro. Even still, we had a good conversation about one of Emily’s final lines: “Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” We decided the play wanted us to try and appreciate the little things while we can.

Ok, then.

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As the pictures below suggest, we had a very lovely Christmas visit with our Kansas family, including snow, many movies, cozy fires, redundant magic shows and laughter galore. Now we’re back to being Fayetteville homebodies in front of our own fire, and I’m doing my usual December 31st routine. You know, reminiscing in my pajamas about the year gone by while daydreaming about the one to come.

Last night we celebrated our beloved priest Lowell Grisham’s retirement from St. Paul’s where our wonderful mayor Lioneld Jordan spoke about Lowell’s relentless loving work on behalf of LGBTQI people and minority people and poor people and every other kind of people that Jesus would have us look after. I whispered to Huck something about the miracle of those two men helping lead a southern town in the corner of Arkansas, and for a split second I felt some hope for this ol’ country of ours that has surely seen better days. At the end of the night we all held onto each other and sang “Auld Lang Syne” as a final goodbye, promising to take a cup of kindness yet.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds or all those days that follow, but I think I’ll just keep holding on to the people I love and chugging from that cup. Especially on this bitterly cold winter’s day that has so far included, among other things, a fireside game of Life that turned me into a pig farmer veterinarian with a $100K salary and a timely $50K bonus for keeping three of my New Year’s resolutions.

Cheers!

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One of my holiday highlights was an afternoon recently in Baum Walker Hall’s balcony at the Walton Arts Center watching and listening to Huck’s orchestra teacher and the rest of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas play lots of beautiful music, including the soundtrack for the short film “The Snowman.” The concert included an audience singalong of festive favorites like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “White Christmas,” and believe me when I say that the son of Troy Schremmer does not hold back when he’s told to sing. The lady in front of us couldn’t resist sneaking a look at the source of such vibrant and loud musicality, causing me to give a humble nod of acknowledgement. I’ve taken Huck to Broadway, I’ve taken him to dance concerts, I’ve taken him to Shakespeare, I’ve taken him to the circus, I’ve taken him to movies, and I’ve taken him to more children’s theatre than he cares to remember. Finally I know what it’s like to sit next to my child in an audience and have my rapt attention and excitement matched, possibly even exceeded. May our stockings be filled with symphony tickets.

Merry Christmas, loved ones!

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Before all the cards are sent, the gifts wrapped and work parties attended, we’re in that magical in-between time when our tree is beautiful, our appetites normal, our social energy intact, and we can still stand Johnny Mathis. I’m the only one in this family who cares about Dixen the Elf anymore, faithfully moving him each night and exclaiming with over-the-top surprise upon discovering him each morning, a lonely soliloquy that rarely gets response. Sunny appears to have eaten our very first card of the year in an uncharacteristic move on her part, making her seem more and more like a real dog. Every few days Huck remembers last minute pertinent school needs (aluminum cans for a science project, canned goods for a food drive, a Santa hat for an orchestra concert) causing us to scramble frantically around town to preserve his status of Good Student. I can no longer keep track of the days or our Amazon deliveries; both keep coming and going without any warning. We light our Advent candle on the nights that we sit down at our table for dinner, Huck with the match and Troy with the words he used to read for a living back in New York. One night recently a mysterious secret Santa left us gifts and a love-note on our doorstep, making us feel like children as we happily tried to solve the mystery of how it happened. There are a few more parties to attend, students to teach, finals to take and shopping to do as we prepare to wrap up the school year and soon enter the last days of December with family in Kansas and friends in Fayetteville.

But just now on this early Friday morning my heart skipped a beat when I realized I’d forgotten to move the elf, as if Huck is a still a toddler whose days depend upon the search for this little red felt doll. And as I went to make Huck some tea, his new addiction that fits nicely with his old man persona, I discovered Dixen stuck in a glass vase high above the stove top. I’m pretty sure who’s responsible for this, but I choose to believe it’s a certain kind of Christmas miracle.

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I have a joke during the first few days of the school year for fellow tired teachers and the occasional stressed out student: “How many more days till Thanksgiving break?” No one ever laughs; it’s apparently too painful. But deep in my heart I smile, because I know that time flies and before we know it we’re saying, “Can you believe it’s already November?” I also know that October stays warmer longer than anyone remembers, daylight savings takes some getting used to, and Christmas season is long enough without beginning it before Thanksgiving.

And I know that even if you’re not doing a holiday season show for hundreds of school children twice a day, this November break comes at just the right time. Our few days off this week have found us together again after a month apart, sharing meals, playing Hearts, sleeping in, reading, cleaning the house, walking the dog and sitting around the fire playing on various Apple devices. The night before Thanksgiving we ran into old Austin friends we hadn’t seen in 20 years, and I found myself awkwardly introducing them to Huck. To think he didn’t exist back then left me confused and frazzled for a minute there. Hasn’t he always been around? Does time literally fly? The next morning he and I half-watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while I drank coffee, texted loved ones and skimmed through Better Homes and Gardens. I don’t understand my love for this tradition of bad lip sync, cheesy commentary and pictures of amazingly decorated homes, but I know that it always fills me with enough cozy relaxation to get me through another year. Or at least through next week’s 16 performances, which will all be over before I know it.

Can you believe it’s almost Christmas?

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