new york city kid in arkansas
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The other morning as I was about to go to work the zipper on my warmest coat stopped working. I let out a quick exasperated sigh which seems to be Huck’s cue to save the day. He leapt off the couch and began frantically working on the zipper while I stood there, trapped in my own coat, feeling very short and incapable of basic human functioning. For a minute there I was trapped in a fully zipped up coat that showed no signs of ever being unzipped, until Huck finally figured out how to free me but not necessarily for the zipper to ever zip again. As I hurriedly ran to the car he shouted, “I can fix it tonight!” to which I replied, “What, you’re a coat zipper expert now?”

Our roles are reversing. Because he’s clearly smarter than me in many areas and because of his immediate ability to resolve my constant tech issues, he now seems to view me as a young child who needs his help in every way. Let’s be honest: it’s very important that he never moves out of our house.

And like any mother/teenager relationship, Huck and I have our moments that make Troy appear with a look on his face that seems to say, “Should I call the police?” The other evening right as Troy and I had settled comfortably on the couch in front of the fire to watch an episode of “The Americans,” Huck appeared like a scam artist in Central Park, asking our advice on a sketchy homework situation. Troy handled the trick question much more delicately than I did, and the next thing we knew Huck had stormed out of the room and slammed his bedroom door. We sighed, rolled our eyes and attempted to start the show, only to realize our Apple TV had a glitch that we weren’t capable of fixing because of our ever-growing dependence on you-know-who. There was a very awkward silence that I finally broke with the pitiful question, “Do you think you could go ask Huck to fix this?” Troy then quietly knocked on Huck’s door and sounded exactly like Oliver Twist on the streets of London as he submissively asked, “Please sir, might you help us with the remote?”

We’re finding it hard to maintain our parental status these days. (Especially when he keeps making us meals like this.)

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To celebrate this final day of everyone’s least favorite year, I have cleaned out every closet and cupboard and thrown out things with expirations dating back to 2013. I will watch as many “Office” episodes as possible before it leaves Netflix, and I will eat all the appetizers left over from last week’s holiday. I’ll call my parents, text special friends and family, play games with my favorite two people, and read my delightful book. Before too long I’ll look at photo albums since I still print pictures, watch home movies and read old blog posts. I’ll think about highlights from this year like so many back yard gatherings, Zoom book clubs with people who normally wouldn’t be together, and spontaneous visits to be with my family. This year Huck learned to drive, Troy wrote a children’s book, and I survived eight weeks of shingles and eighteen weeks teaching fourth grade drama. On the last day before this splendid break one of those fourth graders gave me a gift card with this message:

Year Made.

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On the way to Kansas last week, I listened to a Hidden Brain podcast with philosophy professor and writer William Irvine called “Minimizing Pain, Maximizing Joy,” which I can’t recommend enough. He reminded his listeners that if we live long enough, there will come a time when we look back to this moment right now and think of it as the good old days. I know, I know, none of us think that sounds like good news, what with it being 2020 and all. But we three just spent Christmas with my dad here in Fayetteville and it definitely felt like the good old days. (Well, the good old days missing a few good old people.)

Christmas this year included a two hour outdoor visit with my mom, an overnight in my childhood home, many fireside chats, bourbon, coffee, dog walks, the Fayetteville Square lights, a special musical theatre playlist for the drive, a magical Christmas day appearance on the Markham Hill trail by a white shetland pony, an evening campfire, three hours of gift opening, Zoom with my sisters and nieces, old home movies, constant Christmas music, a ham dinner on my grandma’s china, and of course, oh of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Troy even got to see his family (some for the first time in 13 months!) for a brief outdoor visit after getting my dad home safe and sound.

And speaking of the good old days, a couple nights ago Huck stayed up late and some how, some way found my old baby blog that was lost to the Internet a few years ago. This blog began in August 2004 and ended in September 2010 due to all kinds of problems. Our now 15 year old baby stayed up until midnight reading what I wrote about him while pregnant and a new mom, and he kept reading aloud favorites the next day. This was my final post on the original blog as we prepared for Huck to begin kindergarten:

“In the spirit of embracing the change that is almost upon us, we say goodbye to our sweet red and blue Huck blog. Blog? You’ve been a wonderful companion these last six years, but now it’s time to move on to a place that runs a little more smoothly. For all you Huck Heads everywhere (but mostly for me), this blog will always exist to look at and smile as we remember the good old days. Goodbye to summer, goodbye to full-time stay-at-home-mom-with-a-kid status, goodbye sleeping in till 8AM … and hello brand new life!

Now someone give me a tissue.”

This is the unicorn, I mean Shetland Pony, running down the trail to say hello.

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With our Christmas Card Greetings
And Happy Zoom Meetings
When Friends Come to Call,
It’s the Hap-Happiest Season of All!

Merry Christmas, Loved Ones!

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(This was adapted from my December 14th Cougar Chronicle blog post as Arts Director of The New School.)

About a month ago, Huck got ready to practice a particularly difficult sonatina on the piano and said to me, “Please don’t clap and say it was beautiful when I’m done.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to this strange request, so I just agreed and left the room, secretly tying a gag around my mouth.

As a parent (and teacher), sometimes the key to survival is knowing when to say nothing. I’m a pretty verbose person married to a very verbose person, and as expected, we created an extremely verbose person. We can over-analyze, over-criticize and over-praise like no one’s business. But Huck reminded me that sometimes my over-the-top expressions of his piano playing abilities create a certain pressure that he doesn’t always want or need. He later explained, “I know I’m making mistakes, but you still go crazy.” He’s not sure he can trust my feedback when it’s always exactly the same no matter what.

At schools I think of arts students and their many talents and abilities. They are learning skills as painters, singers, actors, designers, drummers, dancers, pianists and so much more. They’re practicing and studying, rehearsing and performing, feeling good and not so good about themselves. They’re learning to work together, they’re learning to follow direction, they’re learning what to do when they make mistakes, and they’re learning empathy. Our job as teachers is to guide and support them, and sometimes stop talking.

My 7th-9th grade drama students performed scenes for the final time right before Thanksgiving break. The play is Neil Simon’s comedy “Fools,” and it takes place in 1880 Ukraine. These twelve students have been working on their scenes since early October, one of them from home over Zoom. Wearing old fashioned skirts, suit jackets, shawls and boots from our lonely costume room along with their modern fabric face masks, these young thespians blew me away with their preparation, characterization and commitment. I wanted to jump up and down and exclaim that they had exceeded my expectations in these strange times. I wanted to hug each of them and maybe twirl them around. Instead I kept my distance, like you do these days, and remembered Huck’s request.

I watched each of them revel in the high of a great performance with friends, laughing together and reminiscing about what just happened. As they were cleaning up I heard one say, “That was so fun. It was like we were doing theatre again.”

Because they were doing theatre again. And they were perfect.

Just like Huck’s sonatina.

Huck’s Zoom Sonatina Celebration

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Yesterday on my way home from work I nearly got into a car accident.  When things like this happen, my awesome brain can’t stop playing out the tragedy that didn’t happen, causing my face to contort and my body to twitch as if it’s happening right then and there, over and over again. I’m reading a book about parallel universes, and this has me convinced that in some other world this accident actually happened. I hope the other me (and that other driver) are OK.

And perhaps in that other universe, Trump was re-elected last week.

If you know the Schremmers, you know we three were overly celebratory right around 10:30 last Saturday morning when every major news outlet finally declared Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the next President and Vice-President of the United States of America, and every major Democrat (and more than a few Republicans) began breathing sighs of incredible relief. In fact, we suddenly found ourselves across town dancing to the beat of African drums with our dear friends and once neighbors, champagne in hand and smile on face. Later that afternoon we were at the Buffalo River with more dear friends, hiking and processing the very good news of the day.

To think, though, that some are holding out hope that through some awful and illegal fraud, the Democrats have stolen the Presidential election (but not the Senate and House). Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are parallel universes. I have a hazy memory four years ago of daydreaming about Russian interference in that election, desperately hoping that some incredible evidence would be uncovered, proving that Hilary won after all! Heartbreak is very hard to accept. Believe Me. We Know.

Today I am holding out hope that this country and all its red and blue inhabitants can live side by side in THIS glorious universe where I didn’t get into a car accident yesterday.

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“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald once. Fall came earlier than ever to Fayetteville, one of the few nice surprises of 2020. I began noticing our neighborhood trees turning color in late August, and I knew that we were in for a glorious October. Here we are, and again I find myself frantic to feel all the fall feels and pleasures of the colors and the breezes and the occasional fires that give our living room and back yard that familiar something. I love the gradualness of the leaves turning colors, while at the very same time catching myself asking, “Did this happen overnight?!” It’s like everything; you don’t always notice the beauty slowly growing around you.

And while I don’t know about that business of life starting all over again, I do know that all the grass my beloved kiddie pool killed this summer has been replaced by miraculous new grass. And I know that Troy’s pumpkin patch that grew no pumpkins this time around instead houses the neighborhood’s scariest scarecrow. I also know that Huck suddenly reminds us of John Lennon with his long hair, long legs and surprising kicks and twirls. I know that I’ve happily discovered the band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, the TV show “Last Tango in Halifax,” the movie “Dick Johnson is Dead,” and the book “Dark Matter.” I know that we bought a set of new knives and now Huck looks for opportunities to cut things. I know that my work weariness is slowly showing signs of improving. I know that my mom is in a hospital in a small Kansas town while we wait for MRI results and next steps. I know that my suitcase is packed and my sisters are waiting for me. And I know there’s hope again in the form of a ballot, a stylus and unheard-of long lines.

Here’s to starting all over …

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Not too long ago Huck began a lecture series called “Increasing Our Family’s iCloud Storage,” and he always chose the worst times to speak. Right as I walked in the door from work, right as I was about to leave for work, right as I was about to make dinner, right as I was trying to send an email, right as I was going to bed. I kept saying, “What? More storage? Can we talk about this later?” One memorable evening I was half-present and half-asleep and found myself saying, “Can you ask us about this when we’re not so tired?” He quietly answered “Yes. But when will that be?”

We increased our iCloud storage for two extra dollars a month immediately.

These last, oh, seven or eight weeks have me feeling exactly like my trusty old stupid smart phone that regularly announces, “iPhone Storage full” right as I’m about to take the perfect picture. Apparently I can free up space on my phone by managing my storage in Settings, but this doesn’t work on my trusty old stupid smart brain. Sleep deprivation, existential anxiety, election nightmares, COVID precautions, teacher stress, and the total loss of faith in our country has me feeling and looking like my used iPhone 6 with a cracked screen and no memory capacity.

I’ve been reading Chekhov lately, what with all those characters in black wanting what they can’t have, and I just came across this line in The Seagull: “You know what somebody ought to write a play about? Schoolteachers! And what a hard life we lead. I’d like to see that on the stage!”

Chekhov gets me.

Two things that make me feel like a brand new iPhone 11 Pro Max Supreme with a Tempered Glass Screen Protector Deluxe and more Memory and Storage than anyone could possibly need: before-work coffee conversations and before-bed tea conversations with our resident in-house lecturer who is also a wonderful listener. What a nice way to manage my settings and restore my faith in humanity.

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A few weeks ago following a game about cooperation, I gave my fourth grade drama students a reflection about what they learned. I got all kinds of good answers to the question ranging from “I am more independent than I thought I was” to “I’m fun (I think).” Then came this unexpected nugget of wisdom:

For this group, drama class starts right at 8:30, immediately following breakfast. Some days these small decisions – the good and the bad – are the most important things we learn. And of course it got me thinking about what I’m learning about myself these strange days.

Thing #1: Always Take a Mask Break. There is nothing that feels better these days than a brief mask break when teaching. In fact, the pleasure of quickly slipping it off under the guise of needing a drink of water or a quick snack is sometimes the highlight of the day. Every now and then I’m aware of the teacher tension and exhaustion throughout my entire achy body, and it makes me want to send flowers, chocolates and coffee to every teacher in America everyday. Or at least say a prayer and send them a funny text now and then.

Thing #2: Always Call Your Parents. As most of you know, my mom has dementia and moved into a memory care unit exactly one month before the pandemic shut everything down, including her facility. My very extroverted dad went from being an overwhelmed caregiver to a lonely singleton. A few weeks ago my mom fell and had to have hip surgery, and now she’s recovering in another facility. This situation can best be summed up by the phrase “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.” When it comes to my parents and sisters, I’m always on the verge of both. My mom is quite confused and delusional, thinks she’s in charge of answering the phones and is quite frustrated by her new job. She thinks she hears my dad and us as children playing in the next room. Those of us who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia are encouraged to play the improv game “yes, and …” when talking to them, never denying their reality or arguing. So my phone calls with her the past few weeks have been a mixture of great entertainment and devastating tragedy. She’s Carol Burnett and Anthony Hopkins combined. It’s slapstick comedy and King Lear all at once, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Thing #3:  Always Do Crafts. This Labor Day weekend I promised myself I would not think or worry about school (mine and Huck’s) for the entire three days. If anything troubling entered my mind I would push it out, knowing there’s plenty of time to worry about things later. And since these past few weeks have made me a very distracted, multi-tasking, non-present mother, I also promised myself I’d take a break from that frazzled character. Because Huck is home all day by himself, he’s beginning to remind us of a stay-at-home parent who’s overly eager to see his tired spouse at the end of a long work day. Friday morning he announced his intention to make an amazing fall craft as a family, something that required a glue gun, glitter and Mod Podge. Thus, this weekend will forever be remembered as that time we three made a beautiful pinecone wreath that belongs on Martha Stewart’s front door. And not only pinecones, but also Troy’s home-grown corn and wildflowers. Please, Better Homes and Gardens, contact us for a photo shoot immediately.

So I’ll leave you with the reminder to Always Get Gravy. Whatever that is for you, don’t skimp on it.

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It’s another first day of school for Huck and all the other public school students in Arkansas. His day will be spent the usual way, at his desk in his bedroom with his fairy lights, a candle or two, and a cup of tea at his side.We chose the all-virtual option for his sophomore year, what with the pandemic and outrageous size of Fayetteville High School, and we’re pretty prepared to get the news of state-wide school closures in the near future. Since Huck last attended computer school, he’s driven on the highway, learned calculus on Khan Academy, opened a checking account, got hired to create a slide presentation for University of Arkansas business grad students (ok, ok, this was through our friend Shana, but still!), parallel parked, mastered blueberry pancake making, and painted his bedroom a beautiful shade of blue-grey.

Troy and I went back to teaching on August 13, and as we keep hearing ourselves say, “So far, so good.” The New School has a very strong plan in place with small class sizes, masks galore, physical distancing, a very good air ventilation system, UV lights, incredible cleaning supplies, and excellent leadership these days, and so we feel relatively comfortable. Not that there’s anything comfortable about teaching and singing in a mask. We’ve both had moments of light-headedness in the presence of innocent young children patiently waiting for us to catch our breath and drink our water in an attempt to come back to life. Because we teach in different divisions, we don’t see each other at work anymore to avoid cross contamination, but we did meet out by the dumpsters recently for a quick chat and a selfie (see below). Several of our close co-worker friends quit teaching because of the risk, and that has made the hours a little lonelier. At the end of each day that feels more like three days, Troy immediately washes his daily collection of sweaty masks and bandanas in the sink, often hanging them to dry outside. Because he sings outside in the August heat all day long, his water bottle collection is also vast. By the time I get home our kitchen and back yard look like a strange version of a 1970s family with lots of babies.

I think the following choreography best sums up how it all feels …

https://youtu.be/n0zqQxz4DHs

Happy 2020-2021 school year to our fellow teachers and parents and students out there. May your floor stay still beneath your feet, and if it doesn’t, may you have some excellent dancing partners.