Fifth (holy shit) Party

On the eve of RR’s birthday my wife and I had our own crisis. She asked for a party. We invited people to a party. We did not actually plan a party.

Oh sure. We put a location and time on the invitation (park, Sunday afternoon) but we didn’t think much past that. It’s unlike us (well, unlike Debra) but we’ve had too much on our minds. Have. RR isn’t much of an asker of things so the most we’d gotten out of her, birthday-wise, was a “white cake with pink icing” and “Olafs for everyone.”


We don’t put a lot of pressure on ourselves generally. Last year RR had friends over to run in the sprinkler in the yard and our biggest effort went into making sure we could catch the World Cup match on the deck. We let the kids ice their own cupcake cones. They ate on the grass. We hosed them down. Winning.

So no pressure. Not even when RR came home from a party the day prior having made fairy wands and eaten fairy food and bearing wings and nets and giant bubble wands. Debra’s face was pale when she walked in the door with a happy, crazy-eyed kid. Well, so we felt a a little pressure. I know, I know. She’s five, who cares! And really, I don’t care. And she really doesn’t care. But that still left us feeling unprepared and much more noticeably. I mean, they had tuna salad stuffed pea pods.

We managed to order a cake. White with pink roses. We are generally party equipped so it was easy to toss carrots, cucumbers, and watermelons onto trays. But that left the kids. What do we do with the kids? We had them sack race. We had them three-legged race. They balanced eggs on spoons. They dressed in a goofy costumes and had a relay. They ate cake. RR, as usual, was happy as a clam (and would have been if there had been no cake, no friends, and no races). We declared it a success.

I want my kid to be well-liked. Not more or less so than anyone else, I suppose. But I admit that it gave me a bit of joy hearing her repeat her friend’s words the day after the party: RR that was the best party EVER!



RR has never been that kid, the one who wants to be a part of something bigger. She is a tiny, self-contained, ball of fire. She burns bright until she flares out, sleeps, lights again. Not a joiner, but a maker. Not a follower, but a watcher. Parts age and parts personality, right?

This Halloween she dressed as Elsa and we tried the large, kids’, costume event in town. We skipped it last year in favor of our own sanity. The draw is the festivity and the joy of seeing so many kids and adults celebrating. She enjoys candy, but as we all know by now, is not particularly motivated by it. What’s the key, RR? What IS your motivation?


So we were there for the atmosphere and she soaked it up. She got to practice trickortreat…thankyou…happyhalloween! on college kids who thought she was terribly sweet and adorable. And she got to mingle with hundreds of other terribly sweet and adorable children. And also, a million Elsas. There were large Elsa and small Elsas. Storebought Elsas and cobbled together Elsas. Blonde or bewigged. Tiaras or not. Gloves on some. Snowflakes on others. Anything went, so long as there was a somewhat blue dress involved. Many were accompanied by Annas or Olafs (big and small, particularly favored by the Dads). Some were friendly, others were in the candy zone – unable to recognize a fellow cheery Elsa or, maybe, a bit flattened by seeing so many others dressed in similar costumes.


There was a Halloween Elsa drinking game. There were a lot of Elsas. We stopped counting somewhere after 21 Elsas and 15 Annas. We gave RR a heads up that there would be other Elsas and rather than seeing it as a disappointment, she looked at every passing Elsa with delight shouting, Hi ELSA! HAPPY HALLOWEEN! She was thrilled to see Annas HI ANNA! IT’S ME ELSA!


It was a shining moment. RR was an Elsa among Elsas. She glowed. And she was just as happy to leave them and be a single Elsa again. It was a super Halloween. An Elsa Halloween. And RR? Well, it flowed right over her and past her and it’s gone. More chocolate for us!


Also, thank goodness Grannie can sew satiny fabrics because apparently my costume fabrication skills cease at fire fighters, raggedy ann, hippies, and mermaids.

In Which The Christmas Machine Does Not Steamroll RR

It’s not as though we haven’t tried.

RR has two countdown to Christmas calendars (is it an advent calendar if it counts all 24 days?), One, a lovely piece my mother quilted that is a replica of my childhood calendar, complete with pouches to pull tiny ornaments from. My 3-year-old self is a little jealous of her liberty – when I was small my sisters and I rotated through the actions: someone got to pull the ornament, someone got to pin it on, and someone got to tuck the flap of the pouch. RR gets to do all but the pinning (our hooks are too high for her to reach).

In height news, she has grown 2 full inches since July. HOLY COW.

The other advent calendar is a digital one sent by our neighbor with animated scenes and activities for each day. RR loves to see us click open each one and test all of our recalls by asking for “the one with the horse!” (number 8, phew!) and the “cat chasing the airplane!” (god only knows). She sometimes forgets and certainly shows no indication that we’re counting down to a big date.

Speaking of counting, when Debra asked her how many inches were on the yardstick she was holding she said, “20 16”. Her math is far better than mine was at three.

We read The Night Before Christmas. We sing Rudolph. We help her wrap presents. She sat with Santa. We decorated gingerbread men. She says ho ho ho! There are just-for-Christmas toys out to play with. We packed cookies for friends and neighbors. She has no idea what’s coming. What do you want for Christmas?, we asked. She ignored us. When pressed, she muttered some nonsense syllables and went back to long division (not really).

I imagine this will be the year she remembers well enough that she can be excited about it next year. I’m not actually complaining, we all could do with a little less I want. On the other hand, what she’s getting are a pack of finger puppets from her aunts and 96 carved wooden animals, a book, and a wooden diorama from us. She may wish she’d figured out I want sooner!

Neighborly Question

When I was small, I traded stickers with Shannon catty-corner across Grant street. Rolf (“Not Ralph, mind!”) was born in the corner house that never took down their blue holiday lights. Chris Bullenbocker shared the Grant/Grey corner and we dragged up sewer covers, peeled back milkweed, and buried his dead hamster in the yew. An Airedale lived two doors down and walked his 7th grade boy around the block every day. Janet, at the end of Grey, and I fooled around behind her couch. The middle school vice principal lived directly across Grant and one winter slipped on his steps and walked around on a broken ankle for weeks. Elizabeth and I made mudpies even though I wasn’t supposed to go past the big tree-cracked sidewalk to her house. Every Christmas, my mom sent us out with plates of holiday cookies for our friends. My deepest disappointment was that our immediate neighbors did not have a small someone with whom I could blink nighttime flashlight messages and talk on a can-string telephone.

We moved across the country when I was eleven and the most I knew about the new neighborhood was that a red-headed acquaintance named Tyson lived somewhere nearby. He wanted to be president. We’re friends on facebook and I wouldn’t rule him out just yet. Suddenly, we made a lot fewer cookies to hand around. Since then, I’ve always assumed that my first neighborhood was different. That I am different. That it was two-thirds magic.

Remarkably, it turns out that there’s a grown-up version. At the neighborhood coffee shop we discovered the reason our dog always has his head down the drain across from the farmhouse: “Oh, you’ll have seen Richard Parker, of course. He’s the 15 pound cat that adopted us last week. Used to live beneath the grate.” And Debra headed across the street again this year to put up Sydney’s Christmas tree, “I just can’t lift those tree sections anymore, dear.” Charlie is doing much better since his stroke two years ago and our new neighbors put a fire-pit in the backyard. Now we talk over the picket fence with the friendly folks on both sides. Our elderly neighbors behind us on the hill are concerned about the tree between our fences falling. It turns out that although their land comes right up to the back of our fence, that tree is mysteriously on our land (despite occupying the same stretch). Our cookie list this Christmas is longer than it ever has been in years past.

Which brings me to a question: we have always shared homemade cookies and candy with our friends and neighbors, leaving out chocolate for this one, adding more coconut for that one. It’s a small thing that doesn’t cost much. One of the neighbors we talk to most is elderly and has a daughter who is diabetic. I’m hesitant to send over cookies. Is there an inexpensive alternative? I considered some sort of ornament from RR but that seems like an assumption and RR has yet to demonstrate any interest in decorating or crafting anything. I’m also hesitant to add more ‘stuff’ to lives I don’t know well. Ask first if they’d like cookies? Other ways to spread the cheer (besides helping with the tree)?


Home Again

We spent Thanksgiving on the beach with Debra’s family. For me, there’s nothing more wonderful than that – family, sand, good food, and seashells. Tons and tons of seashells. I could probably trade in the good food for enough seashells, washed up horseshoe crabs, and long walks to pick up driftwood with my dog.

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We’re treasure hunters, he and I. At seven, the puppy energy is ebbing and he can roam off leash, coming back at a whistle. He rambles into the softer sand above the high tide line searching for fish heads and other delectable things while I stick nearer to the water, at least at first. We don’t set off to walk miles but we do. First, there’s an interesting shell a few yards away. Then, what’s that on that dune? Down to that sea turtle or shredded tire (we’ve seen both) and just a little further to that thing sticking out of the sand past the last house in the row. By then the sun is setting or the wind is picking up and we wind our way home, seeing our tracks sunken and half washed away.

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My dad lost his dog on Friday. Not lost, of course, though that has happened with dogs past. Sam had bone cancer, suddenly discovered, and while he was in many ways hard to live with, he wandered with my dad that way Moses wanders with me. Dogs don’t often complain so we don’t always get to prepare to lose them. I’m sad for him.

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There are plenty of other things to be said about our trip. Certain topics for discussion include santa desensitization, small houses and big people, and the skill of saying grace. For now though, think of dogs and oceans and the fact that I had pie for breakfast every morning all week.

Holy Smokes

It’s okay, you can say it, RR is the cutest firefighter you’ve ever seen. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you’re such a softie.

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School doesn’t have a costume parade or Halloween celebration like we’ve had in the past so RR won’t be stretched whisper-thin by the time we pick her up to trick-or-treat. Exhibit one (cute pic to boot!).

I also didn’t sew a stitch this year. Good, I think, given the state of the room where the sewing machine is. I don’t even want to know which part of our Feng Shui that room is affecting. It’s like a hurricane hit. We’re preparing to take loads of baby clothes to my sister and there are memories, tears and happiness splashed all over that room.

Since RR is enamored with rescue vehicles, she already had a pair of galoshes that looked like fire boots and a yellow rain jacket with fire station-esque emblems on it. Our friends tossed in a hat and we touched her up with some soot and she was herself only more fire-y. As you know, this has been our costume strategy in the past. Exhibit two.

We’ve been practicing our trick-or-treating techniques over breakfast this week.
Me: (knock, knock)
Me: (whispering) Say trick-or-treat.
Me: (Pretending to give candy) Aren’t you a cute firefighter?

RR left for school with imaginary candies in her hands each morning. Halloween and three. I’m not sure it gets better than that.

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Happy Independence Day (Belatedly)

We had a lovely 4th of July and, for those of you who celebrated, a happy independence day to you, too!

Growing up, we trekked down to Central Street (no, I’m not kidding, it would only be better if it were Main) for the annual Fourth of July parade featuring fire trucks  cheerleaders, bands, baton twirlers, candidates for public office, boy scouts, and the must-be-obligatory Shriners in their little cars:


We’d spend the morning at the parade and then walk back home to find our street barricaded for a block party. There was another fire truck for the kids to climb on, tables of cakes and sandwiches, obstacle courses, bike parades, and water balloon tosses. In the late afternoon we’d join three other families (with whom we are still friends after more than 30 years, several kids, and two sad losses) for a barbecue. My father and his friends would burn the burgers and joyfully light firecracker after firecracker. Someone would grab a sparkler by the wrong end. Someone would eat too many hot dogs and drink too much strawberry soda. No one would win the watermelon seed spitting contest (no one could find the seeds in the grass) and the bubblegum blowing contest nearly always ended in a tie. We caravanned to the lakeshore for the evening fireworks, spreading blankets on the grass, chasing fireflies, and watching the flares burst overhead.

When I was a teenager we lived in the desert and the years when it was too dry for fireworks vastly outnumbered the years it was not. If there were parades or obstacle courses or shriners, I never saw them. Living overseas meant working on the fourth, celebrating independence with that nation’s dignitaries. Living in Washington, DC meant fireworks happened on an entirely different level. But now, without even meaning to, we’ve stumbled back into something like my childhood fourth of July. All I need now is a block party and some friends to spit seeds with. We’ve got the sparklers covered.



Also, here is a bonus picture of my child being so completely herself, I had to share. There she is, curls wild, laughing as rain starts to fall, and looking back at us as she streaks toward the street.




You guys, I am crazy in love with my wife. If you lived in our house, you’d be trying to duel me with steak knives for first wife status and I’d tell you that YOU WILL NEVER WIN. If that implies in any way that we have second and third wives, well, I’m sorry about that.

In 1998, I took one train, one bus, one bike ride, and was asked out on one date on my way to meet her for the first time. She was onstage, playing a guitar and singing in a tiny black box theater. There weren’t enough people for me to blend into the background (which is a terrible habit I still haven’t broken) and I was wondering if she knew who I was and whether coming to see her had been a mistake. After all, I didn’t actually know her. But I’m a sucker for a deep voice and self-confidence and, in the end, she had enough of both that she didn’t need to work nearly as hard as she lets on. She showed me a picture of the girl she was interested in (this was not me) and she invited me back to her room which, if I remember, was equipped with only a bed, a stool and a dozen flannel shirts. We talked, mostly about that girl, until I left to catch the last train out.

The last train out turned out to be more real than you’d expect. That winter I left the country and, email being what it was at the time, left pretty much everyone I knew. Any communication was spotty. She sent me one of her CDs and she is still kind enough to let me believe one of the songs is about me. Four years later, I met her new girlfriend over bagels on her living room floor. While making small talk, she captured me with her voice (again) and her confidence (again). She will tell you that this isn’t how she remembers it. Don’t listen to her. When I returned to the states we introduced our girlfriends to each other over a particularly frustrating Ikea bookshelf.

We both thought we were married. It turns out, we weren’t.

Afterward, we lived in a tiny apartment while we tried to rebuild all the pieces of ourselves. We grew strawberries in a barrel. I worked nights. We put out the cat when his tail caught fire. We laid in bed listening to our upstairs neighbor run on his treadmill until the night he fell off. Then we listened to our new upstairs neighbors play video games all night while we banged on the ceiling with a broom. Our maintenance man asked us if we “liked sexy movies” and then brought us porn. We drove to the beach in the middle of the night and ate pizza on the pier. We rode in my convertible. We kissed in the rain. I watched her play her guitar over and over. I fell in love. She gave me diamonds.

In 2005, we married on the beach at dusk. There were several gulls and one lone beachcomber in attendance and our bare feet were freezing in the sand. She slipped a ring on my finger and we shared wedding cake alone in a room full of white roses and candles. We danced to Atlantic Star. We are incredibly cheesy. And happy. I am incredibly, unbelievably happy.

Today is our anniversary and I hope with all of my heart that we won’t see another eight years without the right to marry properly. To hold the paper that gives us the same rights as other unbelievably happy newlyweds. Because I promise, the second we have that right, we’ll marry again. I can’t wait to hold hands at city hall. Here’s to the overwhelming power of a beautiful voice, quiet confidence, and a silly streak a mile wide. And unbelievable happiness.

With Bated Breath (complete with embarrassing anecdote)

You guys, right now we are driving to a mall (gah, that word is so 90s) with RR. While there we’re planning to shop for a couple of hours.

I know. I’m as worried as you are. On the plus side, malls suit RR’s personality perfectly. They don’t have shopping carts so there won’t be any acrobatics. Yes, still. They do have large expanses of concrete for running at breakneck speed. As long, of course, as you can devote yourself to chasing after her.

D and I do all of our shopping for each other on Christmas Eve. We have a $50 limit, we pick one shopping center, and we challenge ourselves to find gifts that will make the other feel delighted, joyful, happy, special, inspired, dizzy with laughter.  This is a grand romp as we duck into stores, dodging each other, sneaking through aisles, making sure there’s no accidental peeking, and disguising gifts as we walk together back to the car. For the last two years, we’ve tacked on an extra $10 for a gift “from RR”.  We stick within pennies of the limit.

Rest assured, we don’t go into this event blind. We pick the venue first. Sometimes, like today, we drive to an out of town destination.  Then we take a look at the store list and share inspiration. This year we printed maps to plot our course and we’re headed to a two level, T-shaped location.  Last year was more challenging – a single level, one-sided, strip of high-end shops.  Making that $50 dollars stretch was an exercise in creativity that played out beautifully.

I love this tradition. The stores are often populated by the sort of people who do last minute shopping. The get-in-and-get-out folks, the last minute moms dads aunts uncles, the “she got me something and I totally didn’t see that coming” group.*  These sorts are generally more laid back or are in such a rush to get out quickly that there is no fiddling around at the register trying to get the best deal, the one from the back, the manager. Sales staff are often happy to be on the precipice of a day off. The others have reached the point of resignation. Malls are perfect for this.  I wouldn’t want to be in a Best Buy on Christmas Eve.  And the lines for Santa and at the Starbucks are always out the door, no matter how deserted the rest of the stores are.  That suits us fine.

In a few years, RR will be built into the tradition as she picks gifts for us on her own. And, eventually, that’s where her gifts will come from as well. Today, we’ve taken the baby backpack so that we can restrain her and we’re loaded down with bribes. So wish us luck as we juggle gift buying and baby juggling. And wish me luck for finding perfect somethings for D.  As is tradition, I have no idea what I’m going to give her but it sure is going to be fun when I stumble over that thing that makes her heart (and mine) light up on Christmas morning.


*You guys, I was 15, awkward, and broke the year a high school acquaintance unexpectedly brought me a lovely Christmas gift. I didn’t yet have experience with gracious acceptance and she didn’t have experience with lowered expectations because she said to me, “I’m here for our gift exchange!” And then stood there, hand out. I panicked.  I ran to my room, grabbing a lonely bag of potpourri from one of my mother’s shelves, an empty jam jar, and a ribbon.  I stood there racking my brain for some way to disguise this as a pulled together gift. In a desperate measure, I grabbed a brand new pair of silky green panties, cut out a square from the butt and secured it with the ribbon. Yes. I DID that.

Individual or Family Gifts? What Say You?

I envy those folks who have implemented a group solution to presents for large families.  I wouldn’t consider our family to be that large (and maybe therein lies the problem) but we still face the question: Do we get a gift for everyone (children, immediate family, married-ins, etc.)?  I wish we had a commonly accepted culture around this since then I’d know exactly what to do.

My gift giving philosophy (for all occasions) is pretty simple.  If I see something that makes me think of you, regardless of your relation to me, I give it to you because I hope it will bring you joy.  However, D and I come from families where the prevailing philosophy is in favor of gifts for each individual on tradition present-giving holiday (for us, Christmas and birthdays).  We have a combined family of 15 (including the three of us).  Of those, 6 are under 21 (and one of those will cross that arbitrary threshold before the 25th).  Maybe if we had more people, this would be simpler.

Perhaps to you 12 gifts doesn’t seem like that many.  For us, 12 gifts (plus shipping plus odd family dynamics) is difficult and looms as the end of the month approaches.  We just don’t have that much money.  And, we just don’t like some folks that much.  We’ve awkwardly taken the stance that we’ll send family gifts each year to my family (this is usually delicious food) and individual gifts to the kids.  For D’s family, everyone gets at least one individual gift.  This year, we are also caving to peer pressure and buying gift cards for some of my family members.  What will they give us?  At least one pricier present apiece, sometimes more.

I expect to see some shifts this year as money has become tighter for some (dismal, but honestly, I’m glad we’re not the only ones) and we seem to have fallen in favor in one family’s eyes.  Still though, there remains the conviction that everyone will get a present and we’re the sole holdouts.  I feel awkward about this.  I have been upfront about what to expect but no one else has followed our lead.  I’m not sure if this is based on the love of giving gifts (see para. two) or obligation.  I am also a hair shy of ashamed.  Of what I don’t know.  Not having enough money?  Not knowing my brothers-in-law well enough to give them something they value?  Of wanting to adhere to my own values?

And so, we will be poorer than we would like in January.  We will feel queasy about receiving but reciprocating differently.  We will brace ourselves for next year when we are expected to provide gift ideas to everyone but not solicit them in return.  Mostly, we will consider ways in which we can bend my side of the family to the idea of secret santa-ish drawing names or a kids-only philosophy.  I don’t expect we can do anything of the kind of D’s side, which makes me wonder, why even bother?

This has ended on a lower note than I thought.  But it’s a Wednesday at eight and the week has yet to wind down to the most awesome dates in the work-world (at least in academia): the days before and after Christmas when expectations are lowest.  Deep breaths all around.