new york city kid in arkansas
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On this last day of 2021, here’s Troy’s 30th Christmas card, inspired by the first one in 1992:

On to 2022!

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My mom and I write letters to each other regularly, and here’s how she ended a recent one: “I remember a sad Christmas. Mom and Dad (my grandparents) had just moved to Tulsa. Dad (my dad) took a picture of Lori and me eating at our card table. Then we realized we were a family and we put smiles on our faces.”

I know this photograph well; my dad often talks about it as proof of their humble beginnings on E. Beloit Street in my hometown of Salina, Kansas. My dad will say, “We had nothing, but we were so happy.” Within a few years they’d have two more children and my grandparents would settle back in Wichita for the remainder of their life together, a mere 75 miles away. Sometimes when we visit I ask my dad to drive by that little white duplex seemingly so far from my childhood home on Marc Street, if only to watch him become a sentimental sweetheart for a few minutes.

We three will be alone together this Christmas, sans card table (though Huck wishes we had one for puzzles) and grandparents. There will be souvenirs from my childhood Christmases like chips ‘n dip, Shirley Temples, Johnny Mathis, and delightful hours of very slow gift unwrapping on Christmas Eve night. We three quite like a quiet Christmas at home sometimes, allowing ourselves to rest and recover from the excitement of a busy fall semester. But I always become a sentimental sweetheart right about now.

Here are some photographs of our family from Thanksgiving, the kickoff to this wonderful season that now feels like months ago. My mom, dad and Lori will once again be together for another Christmas, this time at a nice big table surrounded by grandchildren, great-grandchildren, happy dogs, and some of the most amazing food and smells you can imagine. And smiles on all their faces.

(Heartbreaking update: My dad woke up sick and had to stay home today. My mom is with Lori and her family having a wonderful time being pampered.)

Home Sweet Home

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Last week, all but Sunny had one exciting performance after another in our family, causing late night wrap-ups of our day (that’s 9:45pm for us), a little sleep deprivation, fast dinners, achy bodies, and constant stimulation. There was sarcastic singing of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” and to-do lists that were finally given up on. And when the culmination of my December hard work was in process on Thursday evening during the closing performance of “The Magical Forest,” I stood in the wings watching the Cowboy Dolls gallop off the stage and leave behind the sad remains of the sole of a boot with bits of gaffer tape and old hot glue, the morning’s attempt to repair this broken shoe. And with that, all the hard work, stress, chaos and exhaustion of the week were reduced to delightful silent laughter as I took joy in the little human beings making art and making mistakes for a packed audience of amazed and proud parents. I plan to keep this cowboy boot remnant forever and remember the child who kept on galloping without it.

Troy’s performances included a very sweet outdoor caroling event for the early childhood education population called Light Up the Night, as well as a couple of Mr. Troy Christmas concerts, one over Zoom and one at the Fayetteville Public Library. And of course he’s famous for greeting students and faculty in the lobby this time of year with rousing renditions of Jingle Bells and Rudolph, surrounded by young kids dancing and singing along. It’s really all Scrooge would have needed to change his mind.

But most importantly, Huck has spent the semester learning 16 songs for three Madrigal Feast performances. As a kid attending St. Paul’s Wednesday night services, he would watch the place get transformed every early December for the fancy high school choir event that included Renaissance-style costumes, lots of candles, and incredible singing. He had to audition for this special choir and rehearse outside of school hours; the first time he ever drove alone at night was home from one of these rehearsals. Not only did this mean extra time with his beloved choir directors, but his much missed junior high teachers are also involved in this endeavor. We attended the closing Madrigal Feast on Saturday night with dear John and Shana, and after helping take down decorations, load cars and transport everything back to the high school for next year, Huck joined his choir classmates and teachers for a late night celebration at Village Inn. Troy and I struggled to stay awake waiting for him and realized that between Huck not being a party animal and the pandemic restrictions of the last year and a half, we’ve never set a curfew for him. He came home just after midnight full of stories of the evening, and I tried my hardest to channel my inner Linda Hottman, mom extraordinaire who always waited up for me after high school play practices and performances to hear every last detail.

In between “Magical Forest” shows on Thursday afternoon, the yearbook staff and I sat outside working in the spring-like weather. First graders were out enjoying recess, and three of them came and sat sort of near us. I waved at my little friends, two snow fairies and a toy soldier, and said something about their beautiful mouths and noses that I’d never seen before. After a few polite moments one of them said, “Wait. Are you the one that directs the play?” They too had never me without a mask, and though we’d spent the last few weeks together every single day they didn’t recognize my face. We four giggled with delight and talked about our excitement for the evening show in a few short hours.

I plan to keep all these remnants forever.

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The day after a very nostalgic Halloween, Huck woke me up from an after-work snooze in front of the fire to tell me that A) I forgot to order his yearbook, B) He needs his fancy choir pants hemmed by Saturday, and C) He needs new dress shoes also by Saturday. And I need to order his All-Region t-shirt by tomorrow. And he needs a fancy baking pan for French Week, which is next week. Oh, and at some point we really need to try to fix his cracked phone that he keeps dropping, breaking, fixing, dropping, breaking and fixing.

As we went into a full-blown debate that rivaled Hamilton and Jefferson’s Cabinet Battle #2 with Troy playing a slightly biased Washington, a part of me began to sink back into my sweet memories of the day before when life was so much simpler. Back then I was finding old pictures of Huck as a baby scarecrow, Huck and Troy as the spider and Miss Muffet, all three of us as Pumpkin Heads who spent Halloween blind and deaf. I was thinking back to our many New York nights and then our limited Fayetteville nights of trick or treating with dear friends, none of whom I saw this year (but many of whom I sentimentally texted). I realized that Halloween is the most bittersweet holiday of all, but I’ll take it anyway.

Now it’s November 10th, the glorious peak of fall around these parts, and all those things from the first paragraph have come and gone, just like trick or treating, just like the tree’s leaves, just like my students’ plays last week, just like Huck’s all-region choir concert, just like daylight savings, just like my strep throat, just like Troy’s scarecrow.

But don’t worry; they always return.

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Ten years ago Troy, Huck and I went to the Maker’s Fair in Queens, New York at the Hall of Science Museum. We had agreed to put in some volunteer time with a wonderful organization in our Washington Heights neighborhood called Skraptacular, which promoted recycling and reusing. Within seconds of arriving, we were somehow wearing creative homemade signs around our necks that someone else made and pushing a giant recyling bin around the place shouting things like “Recycle! Reduce! Reuse!” while our six year old scientist followed us around obediently. At one point Troy secretly muttered through the corner of his mouth, “Oh, the situations we get ourselves into …”

This half-sentence has been on repeat for the last decade, and it always makes us cry-laugh. A variation of it came a couple weeks ago as we were frantically shoving Clif Bars down our throats while driving right back to The New School for a 5:30 volleyball game to see some of my yearbook students in action. I looked at my once young husband with his mouth full of organic rolled oats and unsweetened chocolate and said, “What has become of us?” He answered, “We made some choices in life, and here we are.”

The next evening after dinner Huck abandoned us as usual to worship the god of homework, and while Troy did the dishes and I swept the floor, both of us at the exact same time began quoting different lines from George Bailey’s existential crisis medley of “Why did we have to have all these kids?” and “Oh, our car’s not good enough for ya?” What happened next is what always happens next: more “It’s a Wonderful Life” quotes, more terrible Jimmy Stewart impressions, more cry-laughter.

Tonight we can be found in the crowd at the final high school volleyball game of the season, losing our voices as we cheer for students we’ve known since they were first graders, remembering that life’s wonderfulness comes in unexpected places sometimes.

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This is a ten day old portrait of a mother with worry fatigue, caught starting into her smartphone at the Find My app, once again tracking the little circle that represents her timid 16 year old driving himself home in the pitch dark for the first time from an evening choir practice at the high school. Both Worried Mother and Timid Driver have come a long way in the first few weeks of the new school year, growing in confidence and experience. And one of us now sleeps with a specially made, overpriced mouth guard to keep her teeth from grinding.

I’m also someone’s child, and he too worries when I drive alone, especially when it’s six hours to see him like I just did over Labor Day weekend. While sitting around a beautiful outdoor fire in my dad’s back yard Saturday night he asked, “When you drive all those hours alone like that, do you ever fear for your safety since you’re a woman?” I answered, “Of course.” Later I asked him what it was like sending three daughters out on the road to drive alone back in the 1980s. He answered, “Awful. I hated it more than anything. It was the worst thing about parenting.”

There really are so many terrible things about parenting. Sleep deprivation, tantrums, potty training, teeth falling out, friend problems, school issues, perfectionism, gender identity, health scares, personality flaws, arguments … and that’s just up to age six. Things get so much better and worse, easier and harder, and then they’re driving and then college and then what? Do we live out the rest of our days watching their every move on our stupid phones? Do we ever really have an entire week of good, uninterrupted sleep?

On Sunday my dad gave me a break and did the driving himself to my mom’s place 90 miles away. She greeted us with an anxious smile, worried about her medication, apologizing for her hair, nervous for our outing. And this is when the strange and uncomfortable child-parent switcharoo happened. I kept my eyes on her obsessively, helping her in and out of the car, complimenting her hair, willing her to relax and enjoy our day together. After a lunch out, shopping, a coffee break, and some quality time in her room where my dad and I performed a passionate tutorial costarring her TV remote, we got back in the car for the 90 minute trip back to his house, her old house, my old house. At some point we sat in a daze on a bench and ate cashews, apples and his homemade banana bread (which he remembered to make without nuts in my honor). We were a little sad and a little tired. The next day I would drive six more hours to get home to my other stress source and reason to live.

The morning after that strange selfie was taken, Huck drove Troy to work early so that he could have the car for the day. I got distracted emptying the dishwasher and was surprised me when he entered through the garage. “Oh!” I exclaimed, “I forgot to watch where you were on my phone.”

Sounding exactly like these two he said, “I’m so proud of you.”

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Thirty-two years ago today my grandpa unexpectedly died. I had just finished my freshman year of college at Wichita State University across town from where he and my grandma lived. The next day we were all heading to Colorado for a family reunion of his brothers and sisters and their children and grandchildren. My dad had just finished teaching all of his summer art classes and right as he announced “Vacation begins NOW!” my mom appeared at the front door with the devastating news that would change all of our plans and all of our lives.

For one thing, we all became very superstitious about saying things like “Vacation begins NOW!” because you just never know what’s about to happen. I come from Anxious People, or at least an anxious dad and sister, and I raised an anxious child. Having Huck took my anxiety to all new levels, because you would not believe what a mother can imagine.

I’d now like to rewind 11 years:

The other day Huck gave me an extra rough kiss and then said in total earnestness, “Sometimes love hurts, Mommy.”

It got us talking about the ways love can make us feel sad, like when Shannon visited last month and then had to leave.  Or like when Max died last November, to which Huck said something awful like, ‘Well, that didn’t really hurt.”

Now Huck’s a professional kindergartener, walking alone into a classroom full of people he doesn’t know at 8:30 every morning and not returning to me till 2:50.  It’s a pretty big stretch for the two of us, seeing as how we usually spend all our days together.

And while I’m very happy to send Huck off to this next big part of his life and while I can’t get enough detail about his very fun sounding 6 hours and 20 minutes without me, I am slowly but surely falling apart.

About a week before he began school I stopped sleeping, finding myself strangely worried about his lunch.  I began searching my friends and various websites for the perfect lunch bag with all the accessories (like easy to open containers) until finally I found myself on the floor of Target with about eight options in front of me as I tried to make the right decision.  After 15 minutes or so Troy came around the corner and practically whispered, “Is everything going OK?”  It was then that I realized I was secretly very worried about Huck going off to kindergarten, and all my anxiety was being shoved into a compact little lunch box.  With thermos.  (Which he had to get an adult to help him open today, despite our many successful practice sessions at home.)

In one week’s time along with the worry-insomnia I also got an ear infection followed by horrible allergies followed by a canker sore that made eating painful and nearly impossible.  And on my first solo grocery shopping excursion I bought him a cheapo butterfly silly-band bracelet from the gumball machine and it broke within seconds of being worn by him.

Huck’s right.  Sometimes love hurts.

And now I’m back to today. This morning Huck got up bright and early so that he could leave our house at 7:30am to pick up his friend Irene across town and take them both to the high school for a week-long “PSAT Boot Camp” in hopes of becoming National Merit Scholars to help with that other big thing looming ahead called college. (Go ahead, take a moment to react to the idea of a week-long PSAT Boot Camp.) Though he got his driver’s license back in early June, this is the first time he’s actually had a place to go, and so last week I produced and directed a production called “Driving Practice to Irene’s and the High School.” It rehearsed every single day and was the modern version of being on the floor of Target, with slightly higher stakes.

And while I’m very happy to send Huck off to this next big part of his life and while I can’t get enough detail about his boring 5-1/2 hours without me, I am slowly but surely falling apart. This afternoon I will see my regular doctor and later this week a TMJ specialist to try to get relief from the ear/jaw pain I’ve been experiencing on and off for many months now.

Because, well, you know. Sometimes love hurts.

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But not this summer. First there was the 2020 trip to France that never was, replaced a year later by the 2021 trip to Canada that never was, followed by the actual trip to Chicago where we immediately learned of a ban on Arkansas (and its mostly unvaccinated people) from its windy city, which meant canceling Huck’s campus visit to the University of Chicago. We’re starting to take this pandemic personally.

Like so many of you, our summer has seen a lot of car travel to visit family and friends like we used to do. Instead of Paris, Montreal and Quebec City, we chose Iowa, Wisconsin and Chicago for ten days of fun. Before that we celebrated our twin niece’s and nephew’s 11th birthdays and my dad’s 80th birthday in Kansas, even bringing my mom back home for a very sweet overnight visit. While here in Fayetteville, Huck continues practicing driving alone ever so cautiously while Troy continues planting more flowers (sometimes in our neighbors’ yards). I’m spending my summer break reading disturbing books (In the Distance! Klara and the Sun!), listening to disturbing podcasts (Tulsa Burning! 1619! Dr. Death!), watching disturbing TV (Happy Valley! WandaVision! Handmaid’s Tale!), seeing disturbing theatre (Matilda! Twice!) and sleeping in every single day. It’s probably good that summer isn’t forever.

You know what is forever? The time it could take you to look at our summer photos …

Entertaining my mama with ukulele & knitting

Happy 11th birthday to these twin delights

Huck the knitting granny next to his actual granny

Beating Tina at Scrabble

Helping these 2 spend their birthday gift cards from their other aunt & uncle

Father’s Day Starbucks

Dad’s 80th birthday party with the Original 5

Glamorous grandchildren & great-grandchildren minus Lily (in Italy) & Hayden

Best Friends

Our dad’s croquet warm-up ritual

Huck’s #1 Sport

Bittersweet

Annual Lindsborg visit

Back home for the Pride Parade …

Huck ‘n Proud Pals

and a Shana Seabreeze …

and a return to the movies …

and Sunny’s 9th birthday …

and a 4th of July dip in the Mount Sequoyah Pool!

Who needs Canada when you can have this?!

Lawful Brothers: Iowa Edition

Mississippi River

Visit #1 to Here’s the Scoop

Mailing Mom a letter from Davenport

Pontoon Livin’

We tried to steal baby Lydia but her parents said NO!

There’s nothing like capturing yourself looking like you might kill someone on the Walmart security camera …

A Wisconsin Weekend!

They had to lie perfectly still in order to survive this hammock

Don’t let this pretty picture taken outside House of the Rock fool you … inside is VERY DIFFERENT

These pictures capture the feeling much better

Mailing Mom a letter from Wisconsin

Day trip to McGregor, Iowa with beautiful Wisconsin behind us

Another of Huck’s sports

Looking for a pig

Goodbye to Wisconsin

And hello to Chicago! Off to the Botanic Garden with fellow gardeners Alice & Charlie

… while Huck helps Dan test drive a Tesla

Give us beautiful nature …

and give Huck tea and a trip to the Apple Store

Baha’i House of Worship

Rooftop Pool Party

Lake Michigan (or the ocean)

We lived in Chicago as newlyweds 100 years ago

Dan & Michele’s Tea Party for Huck, confirming he was born to the wrong parents

Happy Traveler

Back to Davenport for our final visit to Here’s the Scoop

Lucky enough to get to see Noah for our Vacation Finale

Nothing captures our vacation better than this picture …

(We’re coming for you one day, France.)

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I’m not what anyone would call “a survivor.” When I watch zombie shows, I immediately picture myself as one of the people volunteering to be eaten quickly to avoid a nightmarish future being chased by the undead. Troy, in the meantime, has full-blown backup plans in case of a Zombie Apocalypse, which he loves to discuss. The other day I went to pick up Huck at Fayetteville High School following a long morning of the SAT, believing him when he said it would probably be all done by 11:30.  I waited in the car for him until he finally arrived at 12:15, again remembering why I should never, ever be on one of those Survivor shows. For 45 long minutes I suffered extreme boredom, a mild heat stroke, a slight blood sugar crash, restless leg syndrome, dehydration and a near panic attack trying not to wet my pants. Troy, in the meantime, could have set up a tent and slept there in the parking lot for several days without food or complaint. Definitely Sole Survivor material.

But I have survived a few things lately. Number one on the list: The Hardest School Year Yet. I survived Huck getting his driver’s license (which also means I survived the DMV), but so far we just follow him around wherever he goes like a couple of nervous stalkers. I survived a weekend at Beaver Lake where I saw a snake and two lizards, got a tick, hiked forever, and was pulled around in a tube attached to a pontoon boat (though I requested the driver go so slowly that my friends compared it to a lazy river ride). I survived the heartbreak of another canceled vacation, this time Canada, our attempt to replace France last summer, but the border remains closed and the quarantining procedures insane, so we pulled the plug and replanned a vacation in the northern part of the good old USA, reachable by car and including some of our very favorite people. I survived rainouts, faculty meetings and health insurance deductible increases. I survived (so far) three months of chronic ear troubles that led to this afternoon’s allergy testing at the doctor’s office I’ve visited nearly 20 times since March. And right now I’m surviving goodbyes to eight close friends who are leaving Fayetteville, though four of them promise to return in a year.

Back to Saturday morning. Huck finally exited the school and apologetically got into the car as I wiped away the crumbs from my lifesaving Clif Bar. He said, “I’m so glad it’s you picking me up! Dad would have been SO mad.” I smiled and said something like,  “Oh, it’s okay!” thinking what a survivor I turned out to be.

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After 14 months of committed mask wearing, physical distancing, obsessive hand washing and a few canceled vacations, I finally boarded an airplane last Friday and flew to Austin to spend 72 fun-filled hours with some of my favorite people. Right before the trip I saw a headline about liberals who can’t quit lockdown, and it resonated with this liberal as it felt both wrong and wonderful to travel again. We stayed together at Shannon’s beautiful house whose backyard is the Greenbelt that leads right to Chuy’s margarita patio. We remembered our UT drama days, enjoyed Rainey Street, held a sister convention, relished the heat & humidity, explored virtual reality, and celebrated Mother’s Day with breakfast tacos, balloons and wildflowers. And of course we belly laughed most of all.

Now I’m back to normal, wearing my mask all day at work, keeping my distance from students and embracing the lockdown a bit longer while encouraging everyone to get the vaccine so that we can finally quit for good. To quote our friend and retired Episcopalian priest Lowell Grisham in his latest Democrat-Gazette piece, “We are close to freedom from this plague. But that will not happen unless nearly all of us are vaccinated. We already know how to do this. Vaccines have totally defeated smallpox, polio and diphtheria. Rubella, measles, mumps, chickenpox, tetanus and whooping cough no longer rage. I see the vaccines as a triumph of wisdom and love. Human ingenuity and perseverance created these vaccines with great efficiency and passion. I believe that receiving the gift of the vaccine is an act of love – loving and protecting yourself and the precious gift of your own life, and loving your neighbor and protecting them so that your own breath is no longer a threat to their life.”

Hear, hear! (Cue Lasso.)

Longhorn Drama!

Sisters Convention!