new york city kid in arkansas
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In the fall of 1965, my mom and dad met in Pueblo, Colorado under slightly magical circumstances and married the following August. Fifty years later they have 3 daughters, 3 sons-in-law, 6 grandchildren, 1 grandson in-law, 1 grandboyfriend, and 2 great-grandchildren, which is a total of 16 more people. (Along the way there were dogs Sable, Puffy, Fozzie, Deppi, Sam, Jack, Max, Molly, Harley, Rome, Spanky, Lola, Sunny, Elvis and Luna the cat.) Troy and great-grandson Hayden couldn’t make it to the party, but the rest of us were there to celebrate in my hometown of Salina, Kansas over Labor Day weekend. There was coffee and hotel swimming, ’50s & ’60s music and a dance party, nephew driving, an earthquake, a horrific ringtone, backyard croquet, a “Music Man” singalong, a 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket, a punch fountain, homemade signs, bourbon, barbecue, frostin’, Pizza Hut, a nostalgic slide show, awkward family photos, a highly inappropriate Mad Lib, the Newlywed Game that the old folks won, and the kind of belly laughter that comes from years and years of building a life together. My dad toasted his bride with these words that nearly killed his daughters: “I once read if you want to love your children, love their mother.”

Five and a half of us (plus a few more) were at my Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th anniversary party in their very familiar living room back in 1987, and though this mostly feels like a lifetime ago (especially with the curly perms and Laura Ashley type dresses), deep inside the memories are very vivid for us.  I was 17 and my dad was the age I am now. Last weekend sitting around my parents’ living room, the same living room they’ve had since before I was born, we realized that the next 50th anniversary party would be mine and Troy’s in 2042.  Huck will be 37. My mom did a quick calculation on a blue post-it note and handed it to me, knowing I like to save such treasures.  It might be too much of a heart-clench to read that in 26 years, but I put it in my Grandpa’s old jewelry box of special mementos all the same.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for staying together (and in our same beloved house) all these years.  To 50 more!

(Photo Credit: 46 Year Old Bill Hottman!)

(Photo Credit: Lauren Spencer!)

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You have a baby and they get many immunizations and teeth. Then they begin losing all their hard-won teeth. Then they stop getting immunizations. Then they stop losing teeth. Then they turn 11, begin 6th grade, pose for the annual outside-the-front-door-picture and start losing teeth again, something you nearly forgot about.  Then they need immunizations again, something you completely forgot about.

Parenthood: a Series of Regressions.

The anxious night before Huck’s sudden and frantic immunizations appointment, he called up some fellow 6th graders experienced in this round of shots for an encouraging Skype session. He laid in bed beside me giggling over comments like “chill dude!” and “The shots don’t even hurt!  It’s afterwards that’s painful!”  I watched his heavy heart become light again before my very eyes, and though I wouldn’t describe him as exactly “brave” or even “acceptable” the next day, he survived the three shots and eventually forgave us for forgetting.  The morning after his tooth came out he sarcastically announced, “I guess the tooth fairy forgot to come?” I humbly glanced at Troy, normally a father of Emperor Penguin-like proportions now struggling through the terrible trio of walking pneumonia, an intense rehearsal schedule and a full-time job, and we quietly dropped our heads, unified in parental shame.

Thankfully our friends make us lighthearted, too.

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After three years we decided it was finally time to return to the city where we lived the longest together, the city where we became parents, the city Huck can always call his hometown. And because we are Troy & Jonny and rarely do anything the easy or efficient way, we drove 22 hours there and 22 hours back. It wasn’t until we were creeping along Fifth Avenue at Central Park that our Arkansas Honda Civic began speaking to us in her calm, yet concerned southern dialect.  ”Y’all?” she sweetly asked.  ”Is this a good idea?”

We began and ended our vacation in Virginia at our former summer home, also known as where Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Dottie live.  Leaving their part of the country was a difficult decision, and if you’ve ever met them you know we had a delightful time.  We five enjoyed the orchard and the vineyard, playing Mexican Train dominos, eating on the deck, walking around Old Town and worrying over politics. We also loved visiting cousins Heather, Elliott, Bryce, Carter and Emma Belle where we took our traditional Couch Series Kid Pictures. It was here that I decided the best way to mark the passing of time is by the growth of trees and children. In both Virginia and New York, trees now block familiar sights and children are either my height or taller.  Pretty much everyone and everything else happily looked exactly the same.  

We left the comfort and security of Virginia for three nights in New York.  Huck was pretty nervous for this part of the trip. Maybe he worried about living up to his famous identity as New York City Kid when, like our car, he practically wears Arkansas license plates now. Maybe he worried his parents would get cranky over everything again. Maybe he felt the shyness that comes with being away for so long. Whatever it was, he got over it and admitted that being in New York was “awesome.” Having his oldest friend Kadin by his side both evenings and our last half-day made the visit for him.

In preparation for this epic journey, we three read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” during the evenings leading up to our trip.  Our dear friend Enid has starred in this beautiful play since it opened on Broadway nearly two years ago, and she got us some wonderful up close tickets for the Wednesday matinee. The book is a math lover’s dream (each chapter is a prime number), so turning it into a play meant there was something for all three of us. Post-curtain call, the main character reappeared to passionately describe in great detail how he solved a very complicated math equation that ended with celebration confetti, reminding me of a certain 11 year old that loves to talk my ears off. Enid gave us a backstage tour, and while we three talked Huck began scooping up piles of math confetti off the ground and shoving them into Troy’s backpack, making him the only New York City tourist to bring home hundreds of tiny white tissue paper square souvenirs.

Following the play was our beloved Castle Village picnic with beloved neighborhood friends with whom we raised babies together for eight years.  I can’t look at them without being flooded with millions of memories, and all I can say is the sun set too quickly on that magical day.

There are lots of other special people and sights and smells and feelings we experienced during our summer vacation down many memory lanes, and as we pulled up to our house far, far away in Fayetteville, relieved that we survived the many hours in the car and the 11 states we drove through, we were glad for where we came from and oh so glad to where we returned.

Our church has changed a lot, but there’s that LOVE poster Troy hung over 3 years ago.

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Finally feeling settled in our new life with our new house, our new (very old) car, our new (very, very old) piano, our newish jobs in our newish-ish town, Troy went and dug us a backyard pond and planted a butterfly garden. Now when life’s hassles get us down (broken air conditioner in July, as if we are forever cursed to encounter some issue with our Fayetteville houses’ air temperature), we have the most splendid places to sit and rest and hammock the evening away.  (Life’s tragedies are another story.)

In the midst of pond hole digging and milkweed planting, our niece Lily spent the week with us over the 4th of July, thus becoming our very first house guest on Anne Street. Her mom Jeni was a close second, arriving on July 4th to be part of our neighborhood’s war zone festivities (and she brought the most patriotic hat barrettes).  Huck and Lily spent the three day weekend at their lemonade stand, where half the proceeds were given to Magdalene Serenity House coming soon to Fayetteville.  Huck is a compassionate, yet clever, capitalist, and I think there was a part of his brain that thought he might get more money if he gave some to charity.  In any case, the miraculous organization has 19 more dollars in their working budget along with a formal love note placed in the offering plate at St. Paul’s.

www.lovehealsnwa.org

While setting up the lemonade stand, I answered a seemingly random ad on Craigslist for a Honda Accord in our price range and then sat back and watched the magic happen. The owner was moving to NYC in a few days and so I was pretty sure it was meant to be.  We texted back and forth and realized we had all the same Fayetteville theatre friends. When she heard we had a lemonade stand, she brought the car to us so we could examine and drive it while she bought herself a cup from the two sweaty little entrepreneurial philanthropists. Within a few days, the car was ours and we wished the previous owner well as she made the journey eastward to our other favorite town.  Did I mention her mom’s name is my nickname and her last name is my mom’s maiden name?  Such a cute little world sometimes.

Speaking of cute, Huck’s favorite song from piano lessons these days is “Heart and Soul,” similar to the duet we girls grew up playing on any piano we could find.  This version of the song is a little more complex with a hint of the familiar heart-wrenching tune, and he very excitedly figured out a tricky section last night. As I was tucking him into bed he exclaimed, “Finally I’m not constricted to just playing pentascales!” So much of what Huck says is beyond my level of understanding, but I was able to take away the gist of his happiness, which is pretty much all we parents can hope to do. It’s taken a while, but he’s finally learning the true heart and soul of the song.  And now, of course, he’s trying to teach me part of it so that his solo can sometimes be a duet.

My pleasure.

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Since last writing about Huck’s adventures, he finished fifth grade, traveled to Kansas and St. Louis, and completed three weeks of summer camp wherein he wrote a song, scored a short film, sang lead vocals in a rock band, and designed a web game. On his last day of school what feels like a 100 years ago, I drove across town to witness him and his classmates receive many honors before starting their brief seven week summer. I sat down amongst other proud, tired parents and waited for him to be called to the stage.  When this finally happened, I couldn’t help but notice he did not appear.  Five frantic minutes later I found him happily finishing a volunteer job in his beloved Mrs. Beeks’ classroom: organizing her entire library.  For a kid with a self-diagnosed mild case of OCD, this project took over his life for about a month, and apparently it was worth being late to his own awards ceremony. I basically dragged him by his ear to the cafetorium.

The next weekend, Troy’s dear Grandma Twyford passed away just months before her 95th birthday.  We three headed to Kansas to celebrate her life along with twins Jackson’s and Rylee’s 6th birthdays. At one point during the backyard birthday festivities I noticed Jackson quietly crying because his paper Transformer mask had gotten wet, and when you’re a fresh six year old this is almost tragedy. I’ve never been able to resist a sad child not throwing a fit, and so I became the Laminator, quickly covering his mask with tape while he squatted next to me sniffing every few seconds, amazed at my very humble abilities to save the day.  About 30 minutes later he brought me another boy who needed a laminated mask, and I considered setting up a station.  Hours later we were at a church in a nearby town hugging cousins and aunts and uncles and laughing together at shared and borrowed memories, damp paper masks long forgotten. It was a full circle-of-life weekend.

Then we spent a few days in hot St. Louis with Jeni, Nathan, Noah, Lily, Dan, Michele and special cameo appearances by Michael, Ivy and Julie!  Highlights include Jeni successfully calling the foxes out of hiding at The St. Louis Zoo, the world’s worst pool party thanks to an unadvertised torrential thunderstorm, finding ways to relax at the unbelievable City Museum, watching an 11 year old speak Shakespeare like a pro, and pretty much every other minute. When it was all said and done, Lily said goodbye to her family and rode home with us, where she’s been ever since. While Huck attends GameSalad Game Design camp and wears a nerd t-shirt each day per his teacher’s request (the daily tall socks were his idea), Lily is working hard at Trail Running camp, reminding us that she’s basically her father in the form of an almost 12 year old girl.

So far so good, summer.

Click here for a recording of Rock Band Camp’s song:

\”Radioactive\”

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I have such a neat story for you.  Almost a year ago we sadly had to leave our beloved cottage on Rebecca Street after two glorious years, but then the beautiful old house on Olive Street fell into our laps.  The Olive house has a piano, and before we knew it Huck was in love. Then one day in January we walked into the house on Anne Street during a light snowfall and realized we’d found our home.  The only problem was that it didn’t come with a piano.  Since moving in mid-May, we regularly took Huck to Olive to practice on his old piano, and during one of these sessions our former neighbor came over to say we could have their piano, which was her childhood piano and which had been living across the street from us for nine months. We said yes.

Next our Brooklyn friends Michael, Laura and Alden came for a visit which coincided with Huck’s first ever piano recital. In a few minutes time, Michael, who draws artists for a living in New York, drew Huck and his teacher at the piano.

Yesterday, which was Day 2 of both my summer camp and my laryngitis (two things that do not mix well), Huck’s piano came to live with us on Anne Street.  Moments before it arrived, however, Huck received his very own housewarming gift from our dear old friend Amy of the Lou-Whos, Amy of Austin days and X-Files nights, home-cooked dinners, plays, dog parks, competitive card games and the Grand Canyon. Amy sent Huck a box of old art supplies, a math puzzle book, and his all-time favorite Palomino Blackwing Pencils, proving he has very expensive taste in writing utensils.  She also included a copy of the housewarming scribble and Thomas the Tank Engine sticker he sent to her in California many years ago, which would have produced an emotional exclamation if only I could speak.

While Troy and I were marveling over Huck’s beautiful new piano with such a wonderful past and surely a magical future that would always include a Michael Arthur original, Huck sat at the dining room table shouting things like, “This eraser is amazing!” and “I have to show you this pencil!” We have a thing on top of the bookcase near the piano that says: “Enjoy the little things in life, for someday you will realize they were the big things.”

I think that sums up my story.

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Since living in our new house we have discovered the following:

1. Cilantro tastes extra good when you’ve grown it yourself.

2. We have a very fragile nest in our tree and everyday find a new baby bird in our back yard.  We have had one funeral so far.

3. Having a pet spider in a secret corner keeps the bugs away, though today we discovered our spider is a cannibal so we might not keep her after all.

4. When you buy a bed from Oak Express on Furniture Row, it may never arrive.

5. Troy and I are on our way to becoming Master Gardeners.

We took a break from our unpacking, planting and picture-hanging to spend a few days with the family in Kansas over Memorial Day weekend (pictures galore below).  We returned with a trunk-full of hostas, irises, tomatoes, succulents, sage and other gardening goodies from my parents’ backyard, making it difficult to go to work and school when all we want to do is water things and smile at them. Huck has one more week of 5th grade, we’ve bought our Mount Sequoyah pool membership, and my summer camp begins Monday. If you don’t hear from me for a while, that’s why.

Click Here:

Huck’s Destruction

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Five days before our big move, I suddenly noticed that I’d been packing and unpacking the backseat of our car for over a week around a pulley-like contraption of yarn and breath mint containers built by Huck.  As I contemplated how unacceptable and ridiculous this was and considered taking it all down, I decided it would be too much work and furthermore, I’d get in trouble by the architect.

Four days before our big move, Huck, who has hoarding tendencies like his father, discovered that I had secretly thrown away some of his most prized crap – a little post-it note left behind by Aunt Jeni that was ripped and had seen better days, a tiny rock, and some old Pokemon plastic wrappers that are supposed to be thrown away.  I tried not to smile, I really did, as he took deep breaths and expressed his disappointment in me for not understanding what’s important to him.

Three days before our big move, I accidentally rubbed hair gel all over my face.

Two days before our big move, Troy ran an important errand to Lowe’s for some last minute supplies, including much needed boxes to replace the ones we’ve used three moves in a row, but when he got home he realized he accidentally left them in the parking lot.

One day before our big move, we woke up to a mostly empty refrigerator and cupboards because I moved all our food into the new house the night before.  This did not bode well for Huck’s Field Day sack lunch, and I hoped rice cakes are more filling than they look.

Today, the day of our Very Last Move Ever, which was #13 for Troy and me and #4 for Huck, was the easiest one yet thanks to professional movers who did everything.  Dear friends over the years, we missed your companionship as we suffered together over and over again, but we were wrong to think it wasn’t worth the money. (Though I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.)

By nightfall the four of us sat around the fire on a chilly Arkansas evening as I ran out of words.

Hello, Anne House!

Goodbye, Olive House!

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The other morning Huck did what so many children like him do to their parents, which is beg me to watch something he created in Minecraft.  I did what so many parents like me do, which is try to stifle the eye rolling dread that always accompanies such a request.  But then I looked more closely at the computer screen and realized he’d created something kind of amazing.  With a touch of the mouse, some magical thing happened with note blockers and repeaters (Minecraft-Speak) and suddenly the beautiful “Morning” from PEER GYNT SUITE was being played in his digital world. There was no eye rolling in sight, only awe.

This last week was Huck’s final intersession break from fifth grade, and so he had to choose an afternoon camp to attend each day. He looked over the list a while back and put them in order from best to worst, with archery at number one and acting at the very bottom, which was no surprise. But then he learned that his very close friend Esmé had chosen acting as her number one, and so without hesitation he did the same.  I was shocked, as there’s no child in America that hates theatre more than ours. Listening to him talk himself into it was like looking into a mirror, and my heart broke a little bit with each explanation.  If he’s anything like me, which he clearly is, he will always choose his favorite people over his favorite thing, because the right people make life better. He knows with Esmé he’ll feel cherished and cared about and his afternoons will be filled with belly laughter, and that will make acting camp better than archery. My heart breaks because this is not how most people live, so he’ll often feel like he’s overdressed while everyone else wears t-shirts, metaphorically speaking. On the plus side, he’s probably going to have a very happy life surrounded by his favorite people.

In the meantime over in my life, I’ve perfected a Tim Conway-esque shuffle around the house on account of my latest case of plantar fasciitis/heel spur combo. We’re a week and a day away from officially moving into our house, and our new refrigerator with Huck’s dream-come-true water/ice function on the outside gets delivered tomorrow. This afternoon Huck performs as the lead in his intersession camp play THE FROG PRINCE CONTINUED, a role he has taken so seriously that he re-wrote and re-typed the entire script and worked on his lines as if his life depended on it, once again making me feel like I have a twin in this world.

In the midst of the daily predictability that can be child-rearing, there are still surprises to be had.

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‘Tis been a whirlwind seven weeks, and now that I’m getting full nights of sleep again I can look back on it all with a smile and a deep feeling of gratitude and relief that I survived.  And more than survived: I loved pretty much every minute of it. Oh sure, I can hardly walk on my left foot and I may never be able to drink another Shirley Temple, Troy’s suffering from single parenting PTSD and Huck doesn’t quite recognize me anymore. Even so, the break from normalcy was a peak experience for this old grey mare, and now I can happily return to regular life with a few hundred new memories (and aches).  To quote the last line of the play: “I think it’s wonderful.”

This is the dreamy look we get when Shana’s in town.

Tornado Shelter!

Huck (& his parents) wonders what he got himself into when he agreed to play Jesus on Good Friday.

Shana and I tried to sound non-dumb on the radio.

NPR Interview

Closing with our realtor Robin (and a folder full of important documents)

Opening Night feels like 100 years ago.

Huck made a change in his life.

Highly Evolved Males

Well, mostly evolved.

A Housewarming Moment

Troy’s mom & Shirley!  In a bar!

Co-workers by day with co-workers by night

My baby niece Lauren & her beau John drove 4.5 hours, saw the show, visited the house, and then drove 4.5 more hours home, which earned them the title of Best Family Members 2016.

The best stage manager and the best awful fake husband

Oh, my liver.

Sometimes we snuck off to our new house for a few minutes of frantic gardening.

Turning 46 on the porch

Birthday Farmer’s Market

Closing feels like a couple days ago.

So much thanks to these two …