new york city kid in arkansas
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Earlier this summer I had a really hard morning at work, and it was one of those times when there was no hiding my misery. Everyone who came in contact with me was treated to bloodshot eyes, super-fast hunchback walking, and wild gesticulating. My sweet staff of college students couldn’t bear it one minute longer, and within an hour I had the most heartfelt cheer-up card and a strawberry cheesecake on my desk, along with a steady stream of loving texts and humorous bitmojis full of hearts and romance. I was immediately better. This taught me two things: 1) don’t hide your bad day from people who care about you, and 2) this too shall pass.

Recently in our meditation class a friend spoke of a year long overwhelming problem that was finally resolved so that now he could focus on the “joyful mundane.” In the spirit of this, here are some sweet memories from non-vacation, regular-life moments in our all too fast and sometimes too slow summer …

In Rock Band camp, Huck was given the lead vocals part in U2′s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” mostly because our friend Austin is the teacher and he knew this would really make us happy. For the Friday afternoon concert we somehow managed to surprise Troy as Huck made his way to the microphone center stage and said, “This goes out to my dad.” Our friend Russell took this picture and called it Troy’s Mr. Holland’s Opus moment. (Back then we thought this was the closest we were going to come to hearing this song live, but now we have September 16th in St. Louis …)

While marching down Dickson Street in our town’s Pride Parade as part of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, our bodies draped with colorful streamers as we carried Love Wins signs others had made and generously put into our empty hands, we passed Huck’s gang of girl friends and convinced them to leave their curb side post and join us. ‘Twas the happiest place in town and just right for our rainbow-loving son. Taking a quick break from the joyful mundane to talk about the miserable reality, do you ever feel like we’re all being punk’d by some international TV show to see how far we will accept this lunatic presidency? At least the daily headlines that land in our Facebook feed and pop up on our phones have inspired some of the best conversations between us and our confused, tolerant tween. Huck is most flabbergasted by how far American Christianity is from the real deal, putting power and righteousness before the marginalized people of our sad society. Huck’s reaction to Trump’s views on transgendered people and immigrants (for instance) mirror his long ago reaction upon learning about segregation and women not being allowed to vote. He kind of looks back and forth at the two of us like we’re making this up. I think I need another cheesecake.

Back to summer. There have been many visits to the swimming pool on Mount Sequoyah, a few lemonade stands, a lot of time with friends, Wonder Woman, songwriting, coding, so much Minecraft, so much pizza, computer animation, shaved ice, chimney fixing (see super tall ladder pic below), yard work, Adventure Time, fire pits, dog walks, library concerts, book reading, root beer, summer shandies, margaritas, water parks, hikes, and a watering hole. We are this close to ending Huck’s reign as the last 12 year old in Fayetteville without a cell phone. Soon we will purchase junior high school supplies & bigger sneakers, resume piano lessons, get Troy some real glasses, rent a viola, and memorize a new locker combination. But for now we have two more weeks of good old mundane summertime.

As camp ended last Friday and with it my role as director, those same staff members from earlier in the story gave me yet another love card and a one hour massage gift certificate, their annual show of appreciation. In happy, youthful handwriting were the words: “Ms. Jonny, get your relax ON!  You deserve it!”

Love wins.

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For the last two weeks my sister Jeni and I combined our families, homes, towns, pets & friends for day after day of family fun together. It’s overwhelming to think of everything we did and hard to imagine going back to regular life as a little family of three. They headed north this morning, and about an hour later I said that I was feeling some heart clenches. Huck asked what I meant and I explained, “It’s that thing that happens to me when Jeni leaves.”

I’ll let the pictures mostly speak for themselves, but suffice to say that the Quad Cities, Chicago and Fayetteville have given us an amazing summer. From Lake Michigan fireworks to the Art Institute of Chicago, a Kansas City streetcar to a Mississippi River water taxi, a rooftop swimming pool to the one on Mount Sequoyah, late night videos, coding and art camps, ice skating, dog walking, slime, fire pits, Clue, waterfalls, ambiance, bike rides, riddles, beautiful home tours, highway caravanning, night swimming, and long overdue reunions with friends Kris, Sabina, Ben, Dan, Michele, Tom, Tina, Colleen, Charlie & Alice, Charlie & Debbie, our hearts are full.

Jeni, Nathan, Dan & Michele?  See you at the U2 concert in September.

kings river falls, arkansas

our illinois welcome

tackett backyard, illinois

mississippi river


our 3:30 ritual

our niece Lily has supernatural ability

everyone’s favorite dog lola

walker-nelson back yard, chicago

4th of july, lake michigan

troy & the indivisible chicago podcast

click for podcast

art institute of chicago

the thorne rooms

high above the city

“I don’t care where we go, I don’t care what we do.”

charlie & debbie, oak park

back to the quad cities

somewhere in the middle of missouri

devil’s den

a week of summer camp

racing robots

sassy’s bbq, fayetteville

kings river falls

brave 12 year olds & their convincing dads

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Not too long ago in the grand scheme of things I interrupted Huck’s piano practice to say, “One week from today is your math competition.” He paused and looked at me blankly. “What?” he asked.  I repeated my completely incorrect sentence. Troy looked up next and asked, “What?” I stared at my dim-witted family for a few seconds before realizing that I thought I was saying, “One month from today is your piano competition.” I just had a couple of key words wrong. All this to say: Come April, life for so many of us is a whirlwind of concerts and tests and awards and celebrations and goodbyes, and it’s hard for some brains to keep up.

Now that it’s June, we have survived the late spring madness that included a piano competition, a Quiz Bowl tournament, two birthdays, an anniversary, a math presentation for parents, a piano recital, a Carnegie Hall concert with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra & Huck, work stress, a math awards ceremony, many school celebrations, field trips, a trip to Kansas, heartbreaking co-worker goodbyes, the opening of our pool, rehearsals for Troy, and finally Thursday’s awards assembly that ended Huck’s two year middle school career at the quite wonderful Owl Creek School.  Gone are outrageously early mornings and five minute commutes, the Eagle Pod, Power Math with Ms. Vis, GT with Ms. Huneycutt, Student Council and boring after-school. In nine weeks he’s on to Ramay Junior High and algebra, honors choir, orchestra, pre-AP classes and taking the bus home everyday! Between all this, the start of summer camp and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I feel so tense and really need to cash in my birthday massage gift certificate.

A few things of note following Huck’s last day of 6th grade awards assembly extravaganza:

1.  When Trump’s name was read aloud at the end of his letter of congratulations to the recipients of the President’s Award for Educational Excellence that included Huck and all his friends, the middle school section erupted in a dystopian nightmare of boos, groans and aggressive disapproval while the people in charge patiently and awkwardly waited for the noise to settle down. It was equal parts devastating and incredible. The children are our future and let’s get them to the voting booth ASAP.

2. As Huck and I said goodbye to his beloved middle school where his brain, heart and hair grew so much over the past two years, we passed a fellow mom and child crossing the crowded parking lot.  And though it seemed unreal for a minute there, the mom’s large t-shirt in super large font said the following words: “Aliens Are Hiding in My Anus.” This provided Huck and me with deep laughter and discussion for the next ten minutes.  Why does that shirt exist?  Why is it being worn in public?  Why oh why at a school?  We may never know.

On that note, Happy Summer!

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My dad and his next door neighbor of over 40 years like to sit in their Kansas backyards among their gardens, trees and flowers talking about the meaning of everything. Both are fathers of three, progressive, middle class grandpas who have stayed in the same modest homes on the same street in the same town for most of their lives. They’ve watched friends and family buy bigger houses in fancier neighborhoods while they’ve stayed put with their wives and dogs and visiting children. They call their kind of contentment The Secret.

On my birthday last month Huck woke me up with a sweet hug, kiss, sad pause and finally this: “You’re 47 today. You’re probably more than halfway through your life.” I smiled and said, “Oh, good,” before falling back to sleep. I call this kind of contentment Taking The Day Off For My Birthday.

A few days later Huck came up to me with something behind his back and said, “You know how sometimes you’re really busy and can’t get everything done?” I nodded distractedly, lost in dark thoughts about police shootings, immigration bans, healthcare loss and my grocery list. From behind his back he handed me the small circle he made that you see pictured to the left. “Now you’ve gotten a round tuitt!” He burst into toothless laughter while I took a second to understand what was happening. This joke was not what I thought I was in the mood for, until I realized it was.  

I don’t think I’m the only human to feel like 2017 has been, at best, terrifying so far. To feel less hopeless and somehow in control of things, Troy and I spent April not only turning another year older but also turning our backyard into what we’ve always wanted: our own private place to sit, read, visit, sleep, eat, drink and relax, deeply inspired by my parents’ Kansas oasis. I told Troy I really wanted our cement slab turned into a beautiful patio; 85 pavers and a couple weekends later … ta-da! I can’t stop buying hostas and mulch, pea rock and petunias. Without a landlord to borrow a ladder from, Troy finally got one of his own, donned a wife-enforced helmet and cleaned our gutters with me standing under him. I go back and forth between lazily reading and violently weeding. I think I could drive to Lowe’s in my sleep. Huck occasionally graces us with his presence, though he much prefers to be indoors. Most of our friends know to smile and nod when we begin a Back Yard Monologue or Duet. I’m pretty positive when we leave the room they give comforting smiles to each other as if to say, “One of these days they’ll find something else to talk about.”

Next week we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary! My best friend Shannon recently found an old video tape of our 10th anniversary party in New York, and she had it made into a DVD for us. We aren’t sure how 15 years have slipped by since that magical evening of our youth, and it’s easy to get deeply nostalgic and maybe even a little pained in the heart region to think about the passing of time, of people, of relationships, and all the new ones to come. But some things never change, as I was reminded at the end of the video with Troy’s solo dance to “Mr. Roboto.” No one said our marriage wouldn’t last, at least not that we know of, so it’s less a surprise and more a predictable outcome of lots of love, luck and comedy.

And I guess it doesn’t hurt knowing The Secret.

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Since last fall Troy’s gotten to know some men on death row here in Arkansas, putting their writing into a script and even reading their words to them in person. Three of these men were scheduled with five others to be executed over a period of two weeks beginning the day after Easter. Feeling numb and powerless under these daily headlines, Troy began spending his evenings preparing a final script for the inmates from their most recent writing. After a few hours of typing up the words each night, Troy would end his day by joining me for a 30 minute podcast on the whereabouts of America’s missing workout darling Richard Simmons. Sometimes you just have to give your heart a break.

For the past two weeks Troy’s lunches have been spent standing silently in peaceful protest at the court house and his evenings at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church vigils, silently praying and waiting with other mercy-minded friends. One of the nights ended in celebration, as both men received a stay on their executions at the last minute.  Two of the nights ended in deep sorrow.  The last of these men was Death Row Stories’ very own Kenneth Williams, whose daughter and granddaughter were flown out by one of his victim’s family to say goodbye to him the day before. Anne Lamott writes, “I’m not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and the human: the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is, too.”

This being spring in the semi-south, we’ve had some incredible thunderstorms lately, like nothing I’ve ever experienced actually. On Easter Sunday the sermon ended with a thunder clap like God was giving a stamp of approval on the message of inclusion and hope, resulting in laughter-applause from the heart-heavy congregation. Two weeks and four executions later, today we’re experiencing darkness, thunder, lightening and heavy rain that feels exactly like God-sobs over Arkansas.

Yesterday I ran an errand before work and saw a friend who asked how I was.  I took a moment and told her I wasn’t doing that great actually. She knew what I meant immediately. We stood holding our baskets for a few minutes talking about our similar stories: we’re both transplants to Fayetteville from other great cities, we each have one son and wonder how they’re taking all this news, we both usually love this place but are now feeling ashamed of our governor, our president, and so many men whose decisions affect our society’s most marginalized people in devastating ways. She’s been listening to Maya Angelou read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s “Hallelujah Anyway” to get through these dark times. By the time my olives were handed to me by the funky guy across the deli counter, I smiled at my friend, thankful to have actually answered her question.

Let the first breath be taken,
A gift the still-born knows not.
Many troubles will surely follow it.
In the end would it all have been worth it
or not?
Let it be drawn with an understanding,
A second or third breath was never promised.
Those fortunate to claim it,
They must make the most of it
To honor those whom never received it.
Let the first breath be taken,
Enjoyed by hungry lungs,
Inhaled then exhaled.
Sweet relief will come.
Let it be said,
After this first breath was taken,
For whom it was given,
Others will be glad it came to be;
Instead of grieved that it ever was given
Among the Living.
Let it be,
that even after a first breath has been taken,
here on earth beneath,
a second first breath
will be taken in heaven someday,
An even greater feat.
-Kenneth Williams

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Our favorite place to spend spring break is Texas, beginning in Austin with our BFF Shannon and ending on a beautiful Gulf beach just the three of us. This year we were joined by city slickers Dusty and Natalie all the way from New York, and in no time at all they too fell in love with our old town. Austin highlights included hanging out together in Shannon’s glorious backyard in perfect weather, riding the Zilker Zephyr, running into Fayetteville friends David & Gwynne(!), hiking the trail from Shannon’s house to Chuy’s for early evening margaritas, visiting Shannon’s parents & receiving bluebonnet themed gifts from a special lady, filling our tummies with chips and salsa everywhere we went and sitting around the fire with old friends playing riddles. Galveston Island highlights included Troy & Huck playing in the ocean like old times, flying a kite on the beach, riding a ferry with dolphins in the distance, more chips and salsa, chewing bubble gum while swimming in the hotel pool, and watching Troy lost in sweet childhood memories of that place. That’s my favorite thing about parenthood: watching Huck create his own childhood memories.  I think he’s going to have quite a few of Texas in the spring-time.

Please notice my beautiful necklace.

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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.