Category Archives: ponderings on womanhood

Dear Daughter

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There aren’t many things more beautiful than a sun-filled day on the lake. The water — warm and clear to the bottom — lapping on the rocks, the wooden dock swaying, the call of loons echoing off the trees. Catching sunfish and showing me proudly, your hands too tender for the sharp scales.

I hope that you know this. I hope that you have long stretches of summers that feel endless.

Because it won’t be long — maybe seven, eight, nine years — before awareness is awoken in you, and you begin to doubt.

You will feel pressure, daughter. Despite my deepest desires, you will feel pressure from me.

I will want what’s best for you. I’ll encircle you with my arms and sing softly against your cheek. But I will also push you, I know this. I will want you to be bold, to be strong, and even though these are good things, pressure is crippling. Forgive me.

It won’t be only from me, born of love and care so deep I can’t fathom it at twenty-five years old.

You will feel pressure from the world. I still feel it, in my adulthood, but I can tell you honestly, it gets better. It gets lighter. And slowly you find you don’t care quite as much as you used to.

For years, though, be ready to hear those whispers from inside you.

I need to be more beautiful. I need to be smarter. I need him to look at me that way. 

I need to be the best.

And even though I feel extremely inadequate to give this advice, darling, because I battle it daily, I know in the core of me that these words are poison.

You will love a boy with your whole heart, and he will not love you back. Or he will, maybe, but not the way you want him to. The thing is, it isn’t like the movies. He won’t mean to hurt you and not even a little part of him will enjoy knowing he caused your pain. In real life, good people hurt us more often than bad people. You might try to paint him in black, but someday you will know: he is good and you are good, you just aren’t good for each other.

I ache for you even now, years before I’ve met you, and I wish I could spare you the ugliness of this world. There’s no such thing, though, as ‘perfect’ — whether in the world or in one human being — and if I want you to fully experience the cherry-popsicle-licking, day-long swimming, cribbage-playing joy of an August day in Maine, I need to be willing to see you get hurt. I need to be willing to let you battle those voices on your own.

Because it isn’t for the prettiest or smartest or funniest that the moon is lassoed.

He has already called you blessed. He has already named you His own. You dazzle Him with who He created you to be, and if you dazzle in Him, every nick and scrape and bruise will be healed.

True beauty is an overlapping of deepest pain with deepest joy.

The moon’s already yours, baby. You just gotta ask.

Love,

Your Someday-Mama

Dare to Surprise

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There was a boy in high school who stood out. For both good and bad, for his height, his clothes, his penetrating gaze when he talked to you, his arrogance. I noticed him early in September freshman year, and immediately I knew that I didn’t trust him. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him, but that I knew every time he would choose the wrong thing. That he didn’t know how not to let someone down in his laziness and youth.

For four years, our paths crossed occasionally, a mutual friend, a witty conversation, an awkward comment as we passed. I watched as he made reckless decisions, hurting young girls who saw only the handsome prince and not the boy. I had my hackles up because I knew exactly what he was like. No one had to tell me that I wasn’t the only he made feel like a million dollars, that I (along with everyone he talked to) was the only person in the room. No one had to tell me that his confidence in his charm was a very part of that charm. Even as I allowed myself to laugh because I like a quick tongue and an educated joke, I knew that I could never truly be myself.

That’s the thing about early assumptions: you almost always think they’re wrong. You second-guess yourself. You remind yourself that you are critical, that you expect too much of people, that you put people in a pretty little box with a label (“Fake,” “Selfish,” “Socially Awkward,” “Immature”) and set the box on the shelf in your closet, never bothering to open it and rethink that decision you made so many years ago.

And because you know your tendencies, you force yourself to rethink it. You figuratively slap your own arrogance in the face, and you dare them to surprise you.

Surprise me, I whisper, when I begin to trust.

[For once, don’t promise the big grand thing and forget in your rashness you ever said anything.]

Surprise me, I hope when I let someone begin to love me or someone else I care for.

[For once, choose the best for the one you claim to love most. For once, refuse your own selfishness.]

Surprise me, I dare, even as I watch again and again as they continue not to.

[For once, make your word count for something.]

What I’m really asking for is this:

Prove me wrong. Please. In this one instance, I want so badly to be wrong.

I guess what I’m realizing is that sometimes you’ll never be surprised. Sometimes, that immature fourteen-year-old-freshman-self wasn’t as dumb or judgmental as you claim, and really, here is a young man who’s grown up to be just a taller, more successful, equally-self-centered gentleman with a penchant for desiring goodness but without the will-power to get it.

The same laughing blue eyes, the same way of leaning towards you with an intensity that – for just a moment – feels like yes.

There are some people who live up to their reputations.

There are some people who, after years and years of chances, will never surprise you.

And you can love them from a distance, but that is all you can do.

Thoughts on Courage

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Working at the loose leaf tea shop my first year out of college was such a beautiful time of my life. It was a difficult time (because who likes floundering and admitting that you aren’t sure where life is headed?), but I look back on those days of Earl Grey and Mao Feng and Russian Caravan with a sweetness. We sampled tea, we mixed tea, we talked to interesting people, and we had some of the best discussions.

You know how there are certain things people say that burn into your brain? I have one of those friends who consistently says sentences that stick with me. It’s a friendship I treasure, but there is also a little carefulness to it because hearing truth isn’t always the easiest thing.

The sentence that has been reverberating in my mind from those days in the tea shop is this:

“Don’t make choices based on fear.”

It went along with a conversation about how you can’t always have 100% pure motives but that waiting until you do is paralyzing. Living out of fear is paralyzing. Being a coward is paralyzing.

I took this to heart, this choosing not out of fear but out of trust. I’ve been attempting to live this way, in both my private life and in my professional life, but it’s an in-progress evolution.

~     ~     ~

I thought cowards said “no.” I thought that it was the brave who grasped life by the horns and ran, who said an exuberant Yes! to all that came their way. And so I say yes because I want to be brave. I don’t want to turn my back on possibilities, and I open my hands.

Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea that perhaps “yes” is not always the answer, or at least that maybe it is sometimes the answer born of fear. In more than one instance, I have said yes because I was afraid of reaction. I was afraid of seeming weak. I was afraid of hurting someone.

But where does a weak “yes” get you but to a later, more painful “no”?

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In 2014, I have said a few “nos” that were hard. I dropped a grad school class because I knew in the pit of me that two at once was too much on top of teaching. I never drop classes. Not once in college. It was humbling for me to say, You know what, I don’t think I’m gonna do this.

I was telling a student the other day (she was asking me for advice on a program to study in college and music and what to do) that I am not the person to go to if you want to be talked out of something. If you want to be encouraged and fired up and emboldened, I’m your girl! But you want to be told to let go and drop it? Find somebody else.

But that’s exactly what I let myself do this January.

No to that second class that will ruin both classes and my life.

No to that second date because we have nothing in common (I’m sorry, but trust me, some girl somewhere will love to sit and watch sports with you and make you chicken wings).

No to feeling guilty about skipping small group once in awhile to rejoin my college trivia night team.

No to trying always to be perfect, to following a timeline, to forcing myself into a little mold that can’t hold me or anyone else, really.

Too often I have said “yes” because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of hurting people, of letting them down, of being the woman who’s weak and can’t handle it.

I’m learning that sometimes it is as fearful to say “yes” as it is to say “no.” I’m still figuring out the difference.

[Photo: Sarah Hawkins]

With Five You Get…?

I had this recurring dream growing up: I’d open the linen closet in our hallway, and magically there was a third floor in our house. The stairs were thin (because even in a dream I was logical – that closet was small!) and when we got to the top, there were two more bedrooms. We didn’t have to share rooms anymore! Here was an attic-y third floor that none of us knew about! It was amazing.

I had this dream numerous times, always imagining my own space, my own way of doing things.

Sharing a room wasn’t horrible at all. Sure, my sister and I had our ups and downs. We have different degrees of cleanliness, different ideas of what it means to be neat. My books took over. Her clothes took over. And neither of us cared much for a vacuum. But it wasn’t terrible.

Still, I dreamed.

She’s had her own place since August, and my brother just got an apartment. He moved in this weekend, loaded the back of the truck with his bed, bureau, clothes, snowboard. He was excited. So excited. There’s something exhilarating about heading out, embarking on a new adventure. Like my sister, he isn’t hundreds of miles away, but when he comes home from work, his home will look a little different. When I come home, there will be one less body, one less sibling with whom to enjoy a warm dinner and a glass of wine.

We made trips to the truck in the freezing cold, and I remembered that recurring dream.

My littlest brother is now cleaning out their room, rearranging furniture, making it his own. His music is playing loudly because neither of us likes to do work without music, and I am remembering a dream.

Our linen closet is only our linen closet, but we’re spreading out, just a little.

It doesn’t feel quite as nice as I’d Imagined.

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.

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One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.

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The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.

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At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.

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We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

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My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.

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I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

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We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.

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I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

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The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.

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The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.

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We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!

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Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

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We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

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Cousin Christmas pic.

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The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

Proposal of the Century

I blame Disney, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

Somehow, somewhere, I got the idea that romance had to be BIG. Dates had to be special and frequent. The proposal had to be elaborate, perhaps with candles or a sunset thrown in.

“Mama, how did Daddy propose?”

It was an innocent enough question for a five or six-year-old. I remember my mom pausing, furrowing her brow a little.

“Hmmmm. Well, we talked about it at Calitiri’s.”

I did not understand.

“You talked about it? You mean, he didn’t surprise you?”

[Insert helicopter landing with champagne here.]

“No, no surprise. I remember eating dinner and your father and I talked about getting married.”

“But then later he got down on one knee, right? And gave you a ring?”

[Insert the many proposals Anne of Green Gables got and turned down in the snow.]

“No, there was no ring, honey. Well, he did give me a sapphire at Christmas, but that wasn’t really an engagement ring.”

The dinner conversation happened in October and they were married in May.

“At least you got a honeymoon, right? Where did you go?”

“We went to Nova Scotia on a boat from Maine. We stayed in a cabin and it was freezing.”

I remember trying to understand why there wasn’t more. I thrived off stories, but my parents didn’t really give me much to work with. A dinner conversation? No surprise? No down-on-one-knee? Are you kidding me?

Where was the princess treatment?

Where was the extended year-long planning process?

Where was the gift registry? The two-week European honeymoon? The violins?

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I was five and I thought men treated the women they loved like princesses. Look at Belle or Cinderella, for instance. You don’t see them having conversations about things. I thought that maybe my father didn’t quite know how it worked. I thought that love and romance were the same thing, and my parents just didn’t get it.

These days, my friends would probably say that I’m not a romantic. They tend to like things a little more mushy, a little more This Is Supposed To Be Romantic. The thing is, I’ve been thinking lately, maybe my parents had something right.

What’s better than down-on-one-knee with a ring and roses?

Maybe an eyes-to-eyes and mind-to-mind conversation.

Maybe a six-month whirlwind-ish engagement.

Maybe a focus on the marriage instead of the pomp and circumstance leading up to it.

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I have so many friends getting married now, and each one is doing things differently. Some are “The bigger the better!” and others are more low-key, and that’s okay. I can’t wait to go to weddings, be in weddings, see the love that I’ve watched grow over the past few years. I’m loving the process of choosing colors and flowers and dresses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Everyone has a different style.

My romantic just looks a little more like a conversation.

[This is not to say that I will never once post a photo of me and the lucky guy, or that I won’t announce our upcoming nuptials on facebook. I may be a luddite, but I know where to draw the line.]

[Photo credit: Sarah. Thanks for going on a cruise!]

Home Movies

My sister is home for Christmas. She only lives about twenty-five minutes away, but there’s something so wonderful about having her right in the same house. Suddenly it’s all six of us again with a great-grandma thrown in, and now that we’re grown-up, vacations and time together seem a lot more important.

Last night, after Grandma went to bed, we sat in the living room and watched home movies. We re-plugged in the VCR (yes, unbelievable, really, that we still have one) and watched tape after tape. It was the strangest sensation, looking at those little faces I used to know so well, and then seeing those same faces grown and changed in the chair across from me. Not only the faces, though. The voices changed, too.

I never recognize my voice, singing or speaking or laughing or anything. I’m not sure why that is. I think in my head, my voice is lower, more grown-up, and it isn’t until someone points out that, yes, indeed, that is your voice, that I realize that high-pitched person speaking is me. On the opposite note, for some reason my sister’s voice used to be low, husky, and we tease her mercilessly about her little-girl voice. It’s not like that at all now. How in the world do these things happen?

[There is possibly no baby or toddler cuter than my littlest brother. I mean, the rest of us were decently cute, but my goodness, this kid was absolutely adorable.]

We watched the Christmas when I was six and my brother opened socks and was silently bummed out. We watched the day Mom and Dad surprised us with a new Viszla puppy and we all blinked awake to its cuteness running all over the room.

My favorite, though, was the video of us at camp. The sun, shining bright and hot on our blonde heads. Fishing off the dock, hoping to catch a bigger pickerel even than last year. Running down the gravel driveway at breakneck speed, our little plastic bikes giving Mom a near heart attack. Luddy, our dog, the tough hunter, scared of the water. Dad taking us out in the canoe and the kids, feeling grown up and big, waving from maybe a quarter mile away. Swimming all day long, doing jump after terrible jump off the dock.

Back when all we needed was the bunch of us and a long day.

We went there every summer for one week in August and it’s easy to forget who we were.

In a lot of ways, we’ve changed – taller, bigger, more experience, more hurt – but we’re not that much different, really. It was constantly loud in those home videos, and it is consistently so to this day. We screeched, we pushed, we danced, we hollered. My parents were amazingly patient, I realize now, watching their nearly-perfect hands-off parenting, because what is accomplished by helicoptering? It amazes me that from two people grew a whole family. How crazy it must feel to look at your best friend and then over at the four children you are blessed enough (or crazy enough) to have.

My hair’s a little darker, I’m (only a little bit) taller, and at least now I KNOW I have a problem with being bossy. Admitting it is the first step.

[A little part of me would go back there in a heartbeat.]

[This photo is from the ocean, our more recent family spot.]

What Do You Want Your Story to Be?

I was addicted to stories. I devoured them, one after the other, bending and folding paperbacks with abandon, dog-earring corners, underlining words that were beautiful, words that were true. Young heroines like Emily of New Moon and Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy books taught me how to be spunky and creative. It wasn’t long before I was weaving plots for hours on a 1995 Gateway computer in my bedroom.

I remember wanting other kinds of stories, too. Sitting at the dinner table long after all the food was eaten, we’d beg my father to tell us stories about his childhood. (My mother’d always shake her head when we asked her, saying she didn’t have any stories. I still find this hard to believe.) Dad’s stories often involved fish, foolish things my dad had tried because he was “curious.” The time when he was three and took the goldfish out of the tank “to look at it” is a classic; I can still picture the poor thing gasping on the living room carpet, the victim of an over-active mind and not quite enough supervision.

My mother’s friend from college told us good stories, too. I remember most the one of her throwing cherry tomatoes over the railing and hitting guests. Oh, and the one with blood-engorged ticks (who could erase that memory?!). And the one when the dog ate rising bread dough and its stomach rose with it, waddling proof that dogs do not know what’s best for them.

I grew up on stories.

The voices brought people alive, my great-great-grandfather and his stern Maine-ness. My grandpa whom I’d known but only awhile, breathed again when we talked about his stories of growing up on a fox farm. As I listened and began to craft stories of my own, I realized that one day, I too would have stories to tell my children.

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What do you want your story to be?

[He asks from the pulpit, and I think, I’ve been thinking about this all along.]

When you write your story, think about how it affects others.

When you write your story, make it one you want to tell.

This is the one sentence that rang through the sanctuary, hanging in the air, making the skin on my arms prickle with its truth.

Even though I’ve discovered the repercussions of writing a life before living it, here I was reminded that sometimes we need to shape the life we’re given. Yes, things happen beyond our control, and yes, sometimes we ache from those uncontrollables. But more often than not, we have choice.

I get to choose what story I’m living, and I get to make it one I want to tell.

~     ~     ~

I will tell about early Christmas mornings, all four of us huddling in one bedroom because we wanted to share it that one day. The lights from the tree bouncing off the mirror in the hallway. About waiting for the cousins to come and longing for the day to never end. They will ask where our traditions come from, and I’ll smile and tell them the story.

I will tell about riding horses in the sun and feeling powerful.

I will tell about discovering Laura Ingalls for the first time, about raising chickens and gardening, the plethora of projects done in the name of sustainable living.

I will tell about late-night summer man-hunts when hormones ran rampant and we didn’t know what to do with them so we ran, too.

I will tell about choosing a college and not being sure but doing it anyway. I will tell about loneliness and fear, about trying hard and singing hard and learning. They will ask about friends and making friends, about trying to love. I’ll tell about walks around the pond where so much got twisted around and sorted out.

I will tell about graduating and reeling in my own mind. About disappointments and mis-steps that, while not destroying definitely left me feeling useless. About dark months in winter when I was learning to trust and hating every minute of it.

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And my most recent stories? They’ll include the discovery of joy. The summer we all lived at home again and spent our evenings on the back porch. Riding with the top down in my car, fearing the day when I’ll have to say goodbye to this lovely little bug that’s taken me so many places. Finding a church that allows me to be the silly, too-immature-for-small-group girl I sometimes am. Growing in friendships that have challenged me, shaped me, and made me think deeper than I ever could have thought on my own.

My story isn’t done, but I finally feel like I am choosing it.

Don’t Touch My Stuff!

I hate sharing.

I hate it like I hate getting up at the crack of dawn.

I hate it like I hate cleaning.

The other day, my brother looked at me and said, “You’re really bad at sharing.”

And I said, “Huh, yeah I am.”

It’s totally true. When I was little, I used to sell sticks of gum to my siblings. “That’ll be 25 cents,” I’d say, and the little naive things would do it because they trusted me. The beginnings of my entrepreneurship stirred even as my parents swiftly ended my first venture.

When whoever I’m with orders something, I get excited because I expect to get a taste. When they assume the same, however, reaching over for my glass/mug/plate, I feel a bristling: Excuse me? Can you ask?, and I wonder where I get off.

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I started making excuses for myself: It’s because my siblings broke everything when I was little! All my dolls were ruined! We had to fight for the yummiest of everything! I blame my childhood for my current state!

My mom even agreed with me, saying that’s probably where my penurious ways stem from. And I placate myself by saying that I give to my church, I even sponsor a child in India, for goodness sake!

But I have a hard time with the little things, like paying for someone’s coffee or ice cream or movie ticket. I never even THINK to offer these things, and I’m shocked when someone says to me, “Oh, I got this.” I wonder when they’ll expect me to pay them back, and I keep a tally in my head of how much I owe.

Generosity goes beyond money. Am I generous with my time? Yes, far more so than with my things. I am much more likely to make time in my week to see a friend than I am to buy someone a gift. You need help with something? I love helping. You want me to buy you gas? That one’s a little tougher.

I must be afraid of something. Afraid of being taken advantage of. Afraid of getting less than my share.

Maybe it’s about trust.

I want a generous spirit. I want to hold my hands open to those I love, as well as to my church and others in need. I’m sitting at a coffee shop right now, and I’m wondering why I didn’t offer to buy my friend’s coffee. Maybe that’s where it starts? Unsolicited moments of generosity.

Maybe you can train yourself to being generous?

Has someone ever taught you something about yourself? If it was a flaw, how are you working to grow?

Good Time Saturday Night

I am sitting in a darkened home. Three children are asleep upstairs and the refrigerator hums as I type.

[I felt my body being jostled and there she was, all seven-years of her, shaking me. I’d fallen asleep watching Master Chef Jr. at 8:30. That does not fly when you haven’t seen each other in months and there is still so much to talk about.]

What did we talk about?

She told me about school and how “first grade is so boring.” (“Boring” seems to be the new word.) I asked her why.

“All we do is sit at desks and do math.”

“That sounds pretty boring,” I said.

“I miss kindergarten.”

Don’t we all.

“I wish I were your teacher. Then we could have fun and learn at the same time.”

But I shouldn’t have said it because I saw her eyes dart for a moment with the thought of it.

We watched the oldest brother play flag football, losing terribly. They played tag because let’s face it, I wasn’t feeling it. We sang Lorde’s “Royals” and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and a thousand other songs. Catherine, everyone is looking at us ’cause you’re singing.

And?

They got over it pretty quickly and joined in. Don’t worry. We weren’t too obnoxious.

He threw his body and contorted himself in all different shapes until finally I said,

“You watch it. No hospital runs until after I eat my dinner.”

They thought that was the funniest thing. Oh, Catherine said she won’t take us to the hospital until after she eats. Better be careful! 

We laughed in the pizza place waiting for our order. The middle boy shook my soda till all the bubbles filled the bottle. We almost took the wrong food. I forgot to order the mozzarella sticks. We licked our fingers.

They told me about their new babysitter, who sounded nice.

But she, as though concerned for my feelings, leaned over and whispered in my ear,

“You’re funner.”

I read Angelina Ballerina, did not give in to the half-hearted request for more, smoothed hair, turned out lights.

The 10, 9, and 5-year-old are now 11, 10, and 7. They still guess that I’m in my thirties, wonder where my children are, and ask if I can have sleepovers.

Not bad for a Saturday night.