new york city kid in arkansas
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This brag blog was brought to you by Aunt Jeni, who insisted.

Somehow we have an actual high school student living with us now. He can usually be found in his dark bedroom lit by Christmas lights, listening to his favorite music through ear buds with a cup of tea while playing on the computer, knitting or reading as he embraces his brand new, very lazy summer.

In the last few weeks, back when he was a busy eighth grader, Huck had one special event after another, just like every student in America. The month began with his spring piano recital where he played his favorite instrument with poise and great skill, reminding us how far he’s come in a couple of short years. He received the Directors Award at his beautiful orchestra concert followed the next week by Outstanding Musician at his choir concert where we were treated to dynamite “Footloose” choreography. Also at that choir concert he served as the tireless stage hand, bringing out stools, chairs, microphones and even an awkward piano in between his own performances. I knew he was in his element as the kid who will do whatever the adults need him to do. He gets this from his father. Afterwards I didn’t know which I was more impressed by, his art or cooperation.

Next was his elaborate GT puppet show where we finally understood the abstract things he’d been describing to us for months. He took this whimsical project very seriously, and again I found myself equally proud of the puppet construction, creative writing, solid performance and deep commitment to his teacher and classmates.

Then came the end of year Ramay Junior High awards ceremony where he received all kinds of recognition in the form of certificates and shiny medals for his straight As, school involvement and musical achievements. By the time I picked him up after his final final on the last day of school at 10:45am, he was teary-eyed and sentimental, something he gets from me. As he filled the backseat with his end-of-year loot he said, “I just realized I’ve been wandering around with a huge puppet that says FREE MONEY.”

And I hate to brag, but for the first time since we moved here six years ago, we three finally have the summer off together. There’s the usual plans for the pool, reading marathons, travel and sleeping-in, but there’s also a high school reading list for English and biology, the ACT, French & American Revolution musical theatre, the making of a short film and Troy’s four city Prison Stories tour of “On the Row.”

I’m officially ready to embrace my brand new, very lazy summer, too.

Proud Braggers

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I just finished playing the role of a mother described as “manic with grief” in TheatreSquared’s production of Sarah Delappe’s play THE WOLVES. Playing “Soccer Mom” was a strange and wonderful gift, and working at my favorite theatre with my favorite director in my favorite town certainly made these last seven weeks filled with gratitude (and exhaustion). March was the month of many special visitors – Jeni from Illinois, Shannon from Austin, Dusty from California and Natalie from New York – all while I worked on a super-size production of “Seussical” at The New School with my co-teacher extraordinaire Sam. The result of this crazy schedule was some of the most satisfying nights of sleep I’ve ever had, and once while driving home from a full day of work followed by a mid-week show I found myself thinking, “Oh, good. I get to do that thing where I shut my eyes in bed.”

Playing a mom is easy since I am one and have one. Playing grief is easy these days, too.

My mom was diagnosed with dementia last fall, right after her brother (my Uncle Ronnie) died unexpectedly. This weekend my sisters and I will join together in our hometown to help my dad move her into an assisted living facility and this new chapter in their lives, which has arrived much more rapidly than anyone expected. My sisters took the brunt of the hard work beginning in mid-February while I stayed here rehearsing, performing and waiting on text updates and phone calls, and I’m so thankful I’m not an only child. (Sorry, Huck.)

Last night I talked to my mom on the phone about my upcoming visit and her new home, and toward the end she began calling me Shannon. In her confusion, she mistook me for my best friend, someone we’ve both known and loved for many years, someone who has been down this road before with her own mother. It was such a strange and beautiful thing that I put my free hand over my open mouth as if  in a state of shock as I listened to her from hundreds of miles away.

By the time we said goodbye I was Janelle again.

(Update: The move was canceled and my mom is doing well living at home.)

Wesley Hitt, Photographer
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These photos I’ve chosen for Huck’s 14th birthday blog are misleading. A) It takes a lot of convincing and/or bribing to get him to take a walk with us these days, B) He’s slightly crouching down so as not to appear so tall next to me, and C) They were taken last month when he was merely 13. His fanny pack full of Lifesavers, Bandaids, lip balm, snacks and water bottle are all very true to who he is. Also true: he is a perfectionist, a grammar geek, a tea lover, a rule follower, a vegetarian and an introvert. He loves the music of St. Vincent, Dodie, Gorillaz and Pomplamoose and the humor of “Steven Universe” and “The Office.” He’s sensitive, smart, gangly, awkward and prone to nosebleeds. He dislikes hot weather, trying on clothes and nature. He’s organized, anxious, sweet and can talk for several minutes without pausing. He always has a few books he’s reading with a pile waiting. He loves essential oils, candles, ASMR, pens, origami, rainbow flags and hygge. He has a handful of close friends who make him happy, and he loves his teachers. He’s a musician, mathematician and knitter. For Lent, he’s giving up paper towels and snacks between meals.

Happy Birthday to our one-of-a-kind!

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Huck spent last week in Florida with several very close friends, a favorite teacher and over 50 other eighth graders from the two Fayetteville public junior highs. This was the 29th annual GT trip to Epcot, and all the other Disney parks plus Busch Gardens, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure where Harry Potter lives. Huck was very much outside his comfort zone – leaving us for five nights and six days, flying on airplanes without us to keep track of boarding passes, sleeping in a hotel room with boys his age, managing his hard-won $220 spending money from candy bar sales, being the only kid scared to ride roller coasters, and not once getting his preferred nine hours of sleep. But mostly leaving us for five nights and six days.

(I blame attachment parenting. All that co-sleeping, baby-wearing, breastfeeding business from 2005-2007.)

Thankfully, in the midst of discomfort and sleep deprivation, over 1000 photos and videos were taken on Huck’s trusty iPhone, proving that quite a lot of fun was actually had. His highlights, based on the many writing prompts he had to do back at the hotel each night before bed, include a butterbeer at Hogsmeade, Magic Kingdom fireworks, their ’50s themed Pop Century hotel, pizza at Epcot’s Italy (thanks to cousin Heather’s suggestion), the sky ride high above Busch Gardens, the Hogwarts train, dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, and the teacup ride (because we did that with Shannon at Disneyland nearly eight years ago).

Meanwhile to pass the time without him, Troy and I binge watched “Killing Eve” on Hulu, saw a couple plays and a locally shot independent film, gave Sunny some walks at Huck’s least favorite places, stayed out past our bedtime on a school night, and only ran the dishwasher once. I also spent most of my spare time reading Huck’s hundreds of texts, most of which included colorful heart emojis and the words “I love you SO much!”

On Huck’s last day in Orlando, he was the first to wake up in his room. After doing all his morning bathroom rituals, including getting dressed for the day, he decided he’d better wake up his roommates. Thankfully, he checked his phone to see what time it was first, and upon discovering it was somehow only 11:58pm, he awkwardly climbed back into his bed fully dressed and slept until 6:00. Twenty-four hours later, we joined the other well-rested parents at the airport at midnight to take home our tired travelers. Huck’s body finally gave in to the sickness it had been resisting, and he spent the weekend mostly sleeping and chugging water. In between naps, he showed us his souvenirs and pile of receipts, leftover money, his hotel room key bracelet, the pink paper cone that once held butterbeer ice cream from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, his hour-long slide show of pictures and anecdotes, his GT journal, and a Mickey & Minnie DisneyWorld Christmas ornament to join our honeymoon Mickey and Minnie ornament from 1992.

I love him SO much!

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Later today we’re headed to a lodge at the beautiful Buffalo River a few hours from home with cherished Arkansas friends, all transplants from faraway places like us, to say goodbye to the Happy and Sad of 2018 and welcome All That & More in the New Year. This year we three saw Redwoods up close, watched Huck surpass me in height by more than a few inches, took an all day train ride along the Pacific Ocean, and cut down our own Christmas tree. Also this year I made a commercial, a TV show, a movie and a play, just to cover all my bases, and Mr. Troy continued his celebrity status singing to little kids at school, concerts and parties. Huck practically became a professional fundraiser, and as his lucky parents we marveled at amazing new skills in his viola and piano playing. Like so many years before, we spent hours and days with beloved family and friends across the country, adding memories, photographs and laugh lines to our lives. Sunny is showing signs of middle age as younger dogs tire her out, though nothing makes her happier than a long hike and running off-leash. This year Huck got a beautiful bedroom renovation with all new furniture and many candles, and now we rarely see him. Reminders of the cruel passing of time, Troy threw out his back lifting a three year old and I strained my intercostal muscles moving a baby grand piano. But most of all, we lost our beloved Uncle Ronnie and now begin the season of our lives as aging parents with aging parents.

My 2019 plans? To keep laughing.

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Merry Christmas, loved ones!

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Troy just took Huck to an all-day quiz bowl tournament and left me here on the couch in front of the fire and the Christmas tree with a pile of books, a snuggly dog and a cup of coffee. I’m recovering from a painful strained intercostal muscle under my right ribs, and since we’re all in the thick of the most wonderful time of the year, I’m also recovering from overstimulation (and last night’s nightmare wherein Troy was diagnosed with Garlic Cancer, whatever that means for my subconscious). It’s these quiet, hygge moments I love the most.

This last week Huck wowed us with choir and orchestra concerts, and next week will be his piano recital in the midst of finals. Listening to him work on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has given us new respect for poor little Janie in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey loses his mind during her attempt to get it just right. My work days are filled with five and six year old snow fairies, elves, toy soldiers and reindeer with the most wonderful co-worker in the world whose only flaw is the painful laughter she causes my intercostals, while Troy does his serious work with even younger people. We simultaneously love almost every minute of it and long for our upcoming two week vacation.

Back when Huck was a baby I was forced to slow down and stay seated longer than normal. It was really good for me and my anxious, fast-beating heart. This latest ailment has a similar requirement, though without the breastfeeding, and I think it’s my Christmas season mixed blessing. Can someone refill my coffee, please?

Happy Hygge Holidays from the couch.

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A few days before my Uncle Ronnie had the accident that led to his death, I heard this Eels song that I’ve listened to a hundred times before. The song begins this way:

“You’re dead but the world keeps spinning
Take a spin through the world you left
It’s getting dark a little too early
Are you missing the dearly bereft?
Taking flight and you could be
Here tomorrow
Taking flight, well, you could get
Here tonight.”

Having no idea that we were about to experience the world spinning without Ronnie in it, the lyrics that stood out to me were “taking flight, you could get here tonight.” I wondered who I would be most happy to receive a surprise visit from like that, and wouldn’t you know it? Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Dottie were at the top of the list.

Our world somehow keeps spinning. In the midst of grief, I did a play of monologues with talented, passionate women that raised a lot of money for Magdalene Serenity House (Love Heals).  I helped organize a festive event of music and art at the school where we work, and Huck made first chair viola at All Region Orchestra. I watched my home state elect a woman Democrat for Governor, proving the existence of miracles, and we spent a few glorious days at the Lake of the Ozarks with my sister and her family, proving the existence of gratitude. And of course Troy and I took flight and joined family and friends in Virginia a few weeks ago, taking a spin through the rich world our uncle left behind. We joined loved ones from New Jersey, Florida, California, Washington, New York and Kansas, all of us with that heart-clench feeling that Ronnie would have loved to have been there.

At his memorial service, son in-law Elliott said that Ron had given him a profound burden of gratitude. He quoted his friend: “Blessings come at us so relentlessly, we are forever in a deficit position. We never get all of the thank-yous or goodbyes properly said, which leaves us, each one, living with a burden of gratitude.”

May we all be so lucky.

Thanksgiving 2005 & 2018

(Photo Credit Russell Sharman, who with Cheryl attended this All Region Orchestra concert since we were far away.)

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Fall has come a bit early to Fayetteville, and it snuck up on me so quickly that I can hardly concentrate. One day it was mostly green and the next all red, orange and yellow. I can’t really keep conversations going because I’m so distracted by this temporary magic that’s every where I look. When it gets like this, usually in early November around these parts, I get almost panicky trying to be in the present moment, knowing that it’s going to soon be over. My failed objective every autumn is to calmly take in the breathtaking beauty and then let it go.

About six weeks ago my parents began some intense planning for “end of life” arrangements, and part of their process was that my dad began calling my Uncle Ronnie, his brother in-law for the past 52 years and one of my very favorite people, to get advice and support. They discussed cremation, living wills and my dad’s art work. And then, just like that, within a few days of their last phone call Ronnie fell down a flight of stairs and never recovered.

As a Kansas kid, my New Jersey aunt and uncle were exotic, attentive and always fun. This opinion only grew as I did, and how I loved sharing them both with Troy. Their Summit home was where we parked our bodies and furniture waiting for our New York City life to begin, and it is where we returned time and time again for Thanksgivings and other visits. City lovers themselves, they often made the drive or the train ride into Manhattan, treating us to dinner and Broadway shows, sightseeing at the Rockefeller tree and the Christmas window lights most every December. They never missed a single play either of us were in, no matter how awful. They moved to Virginia a few months before I got pregnant with Huck, and so that became our new favorite place to visit. Four Octobers ago Ronnie and Dottie even made it down to see our new home in Fayetteville and me on stage in “Proof,” finally understanding the appeal of this southern town.

It’s been an October of grieving, but the end of this month has also brought awe to my sad heart. I know that leaves change colors because of a lack of chlorophyll caused by the fewer hours of daylight and the changes in temperature. These beautiful, sought after leaves are dying, after all. The trees are preparing for winter and reminding us to do the same. They say that leaves can change colors early because of tree-stress. The tree perceives a threat to its well-being, and so changing colors early is a defensive mechanism that allows the stressed out tree to eliminate at least one source of trouble. Troy says it’s because of all the rain.

Whatever the reason, I’ll take it.

October 2014

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After waiting a few extra minutes for Huck to come out of the house and get in the car to head to school this morning, he finally appeared with his oversized backpack, fashionable lunch bag, trusty viola and heavy box of 60 candy bars that he’s selling for a dollar. I chuckled under my breath at how many accessories he carries to school each day as I caught a whiff of his amazing smell. So I said, “You smell amazing.” “Oh, I just put on some lotion,” he replied. “You smell more amazing than lotion,” I countered. He concluded,”Oh, I also put essential oils in my shoes. And sprayed myself with lavender.”

I can think of no better story to describe my 13.5 year old son than this one.

To donate to his EPCOT trip fundraiser click here: