Strangers in cars

Yesterday was a need to be “on” day. I saw student after student in and out of my classroom, I spoke with enthusiasm, I listened intently. All through my day at work, I governed the silences and the sounds, smoothing over the moments in which it felt like there should be more of one or the other. I looked into students’ eyes and smiled. I filled the empty spaces.

After school was all movement– I had it in my head to gather up the youngest kids and walk the dog around the block, but when I came downstairs, I found them playing amicably preparing for a “talent show.”I used the momentary reprieve to start dinner- but they were back upstairs within minutes, crying out in agony the question of every day: “What should we doooooooo?”

I looked at the clock, mentally noting that it was time to start the process of loading the car to take Ellie to dance; we boarded, Everett in a dinosaur costume, Mae (maybe?) wearing a skirt, not a single child in shoes. We had to bring Ivy, our new goldendoodle puppy, because she was due for her second trip to the vet. “I can’t forget the poo!” I shouted out as the keys were midway to the ignition, confirming once again to my neighbor’s their assumptions about my sanity are correct. (To clarify: a fecal test was required for this veterinary visit.)

We drove straight from dance to the vet and called the office to announce our arrival. For the first few minutes, the kids sat happily watching different animals arrive. An older woman in the car next to us was greeted by a technician- “Can she walk?” the worker asked, motioning to the black lab in the back seat. I didn’t catch the woman’s response. The kids quickly noticed other animals nearby and our attention was diverted. As the start time of our appointment slipped further and further away without anyone coming to fetch the pup, I eyed the clock warily. I had to pick up Ellie soon, Ivy still hadn’t been taken inside, and there were multiple messages in all caps stating that I should stay in the parking lot and not leave during my pet’s visit. I called Jacob, who was racing home from work as fast as he could, but would likely not make it in time to pick up the dancer. “I’ll try,” he told me. “Don’t be reckless,” I advised pointlessly, because of course he’s a maniac whenever I fail to remind him of this, right?

Twenty minutes after our appointment was to start, I called again. The receptionist’s voice was harried- “I’m sorry,” she said, “We just had two emergencies, I don’t know when, I’m not sure,” she struggled to finish her sentences. I looked at the woman in the car next to me. I noticed her because she was not looking at her phone, she wasn’t looking at anything really. She stared out her window, eyes wide and unblinking, her gaze fixed to the beyond, seeing something I could not. I saw her out the window, and then in my own rearview mirror I saw my kids– Sophie in a tie dye hoodie and barefeet, Mae in her big sister’s jean skirt and alternating red & purple fingernails, Everett in his dinosaur costume clutching Ivy as she energetically leaned her nose out the window.

I saw my children through the woman’s eyes. Was she thinking about when her lab was a pup, when her kids were young? When she had goldfish crumbs in the seat cracks and dance lessons to drive to and tiny fingernails to paint?

Was she saying good bye to her dog? Was she saying good bye to her past? Was that what she was seeing up there in the sky, a picture more real in her mind in that moment than it had even been in the flesh years ago?

The tech graciously let Ivy in before they could actually see her, and I backed the car out to race to the dance studio.  I called Jacob and said I would be able to get her, and that he could stop driving recklessly now, and then, through tears,  I told him that the lady next to us might have a dog who was irreparably sick.

I picked up Ellie and there soon wasn’t time to sit and think about goldfish crumbs and puppies and made-up stories about strangers in cars. We made it through dinner, all talking at once, not hearing much– dirtying every possible bowl first with soup and then cookie dough ice cream. Darkness enclosed the house, our kitchen a cacophony of noise in the midst of an ever-cooling and quickly-darkening autumn.

Sophie demanded that Cohen, Jacob, and I make our way downstairs to watch the talent show they had been preparing. Everett held a tambourine, hopping sharply and erratically to “shut up and dance with me.” Mae wore a purple Rapunzel dress and waved her arms like a bird, and Ellie wowed us with a number of hula hoop tricks.

I clapped and smiled, holding two feelings so close to one another, side by side. It was holding together of opposites– this “we are here now” and “we will not always be,”and the weight of this holding together reminded me– in the midst of the movement: I am here, I’m alive.

After the talent show, I clapped so loud my hands hurt.

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SOPHIE’S GUEST WRITE (with permission)

Mommy has been making us a summer schedule. Theres a activity for every day. She changes it every Sunday night. All the activity should be recorded. Written down. I guess thst works for me because I want to be a writer when I grow up. So I wrote this. I hope uh…. whoever reading this will like it. Here are some activities I recall from the Summer in Qaurantine.

Family Pictionary: Cohen was mostly grumpy during this activity. Most of us had fun, while Cohen sat stiffly playing with Star wars toys. At least he went up when he was called. The girls one the came even though a drew the most weird mouse ( I’m only good at drawing people ) Then Everett and Mae (4 now) actually did pretty well. Mae drew a pretty good pizza slice, and Everett made a pretty good tree. (though everyone mistook it as a bush.)

Chopped: This activity is based off the popular cooking channel show “Chopped”. They covered up mystery bucket of food and saw who made the best dish. The food in each bucket was all the same. the spilt into three rounds. Appetizers, lunch, and dessert. Mommy and Daddy were the judges. no one actually got chopped. For lunch me and Ellie both made chicken meals.Cohen made a monzerella stick! For dessert Cohen made a type of chocolate shake that he named Akidna, after the anteater-like animal I once read about. I made a ice cream pile up with homeade gram cracker crust. Mae and Everett kinda just ate chicken Nuggets and Kiwi, and Sprinkled sprinkles everywhere.

Remote Field Day: since Qaurantine, we have been having Remote learning, as well as a Remote Field Day, with planned games our Gym teacher sent out. We did a game where the outside wall is a a backboard against the ball (a sock) and and a cooler as a hoop. we did others, to. in a game (cloths relay) we told Mommy she looked just like “Delivery Debbie”, a character from a show called “Odd Squad”. Daddy searched a photo online and she DID look just like her.

Paint BirdHouses: We laid out a chunk of cardboard and put plates with different color paints on them. Ellie painted a side of her roof with flowers so it would attract birds. I painted my roof dark blue and the sides cheery pink. I spalttered my paint on the inside and on the inside bottom I painted rainbow and wrote WRITER in black on it. Later we found out that Everetts BirdHouse was half way eaten by a woodpecker. It was fine. the birdhouses turned out great ( even Everetts).

Slip’n Slide: we all spent a lot of time on the Slip’n slide. Cohen took a break to mow a neighbors lawn, and I got out to jump in the pool because it was H-O-T. Adding more water made it slipperier, and Cohen found a way to press down at the edges of the Slip’n Slide making the water shoot higher and farther, getting it more slippery. We played a game where two people sit on the wet puffy edge of the Slip’n Slide while a third person tried to jiggle them until one fell off (not getting hurt). the lone ranger would win.

Memorial Day Barbeque: We finally decided to open the doors and have are cousins, and GrandParents over for a pool party. We also had a birthday for my Great-Aunt and had a pool party for that, to. We swam in the pool and Played in are new treehouse.

Popcorn Movie Night: For popcorn movie night we drank sprite and ate ice cream and watched on of my favorite movies, Sandlot. my favorite part is when they get chased by “the beast”. I hope i just didn’t give away to much for people who haven’t seen ‘SandLot”.

Make Paper Bag Puppets: This activity turned out to be more “make crafts” Then “make paper bag puppets.” Me and Everett both used paper bags. I turned my bag into a parrot because I saw feathers of all colors and thought I had a chance to use them. I searched a picture of a parrot and copied it as realistically as I could. Everett, on the other hand, painted his black and stuck a googly eye at the top. he claimed it was a “Monster with a million legs and a million tummies”. I guess a could see that becuse he glued a ton of popsicle sticks. Cohen painted a canvas of what looked all green at the time but turned out on fathers day to say #1 Dad on it, and Ellie painted a tree that she had learned how to make in her art class. Me and her both blow dried ares to have them dry.

Capture the Flag: the girls one most of the games except for one. We spilt into sides (Girls Backyard, boys front) and named mommy the the guard. me and Ellie snuck up on the other team. we used old leis’ as the flags’. It started raining half-way through, but we did it! we watched a movie, afterward, too.

Outside eating: We ate outside lots of nights, mostly after we swam in the pool. Two nights we ate from resraunts. The resraunts were Village Squire, and Brunch Cafe’.

Fondue Night: while Mommy and Daddy prepared are fondue, we were watching “The Hunger Games”(well, The Hunger Games was probably too scary for Everett and Mae. Instead they watched ‘Topsy and Tim” “Paw Patrol” and “Blaze and the Monster Machines”) . We had just finished reading the book (Hunger Games) and I really liked it. Then they called us in for Fondue. The dips ( plain cheese, then also cheese and artichoke) where in the center of the table, in heart- shaped bowls with eletric candles, too heat them up. after watching more “Hunger Games” Mommy and Daddy called us in for dessert fondue, which was dipped in chocolate this time. I ate more then I did at dinner ( mostly because the Angel Food Cake was soooooo good.)

Croquet: I didn’t have much to do with this. I thought Croquet would be a boring sport, like golf (basketballs my sport). I forget even who one. What I do remember his when we waited for are turns we sat on the hammock sing Ten Little Monkies jumping on the bed, and rolling off the hammock acting it out.

Kick the Can: Playing with a old Lysol container Ellie later used as a present to our Grandpa on fathers day.

Nerf Fight: This was todays activity. The kids one. Most of the kids just hung around, but I snuck downstairs. Cohen occasionally went downstairs to get more boxes for the fort. We had a dart bin with darts in it (duh), an dEllie gaurded them. i wanted to use the kiddie crossbow but I forget my code (the crossbow requires a code to make it shoot.) Still it was really fun.

Nature Preserves: We have gone to lots of different Nature Preserves this Summer. The first, I didn’t like that much it wasn’t Naturey enough. To many power cords. I cheered up when Mommy said I could make a homeade bookmark out of the flowers from nature preserves and start a collection.We accidentely took the horse backriding trail, which was really long, so we needed to turn around. At the second nature preserve we stopped at Country Donuts before we went. When we got there I climbed a tree 1000 feet in the air ( It really was super high!). At the third there was oddley shaped rocks that we could leap across like ninjas. It had a spillway toward the end and we got to wade in the side that was not “spilling”. They had so many paths it was hard for me to choose just one. I really liked it. The fourth was one where we we were supposed to go to the pond but we kept turning the other dirrection. When we got to the pond it had rained so much from the night before the bridge had sank. So we needed to turn BACK and take the longer path. It was really fun though.


Paint Birdhouses; We laid out a chunk of cardboard on the ground and set out plates with different colors. Ellie painted flowers on one side of her roof, to attract the birds. I painted a

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Quarantine Times

Last Saturday, after several days in a row of rain, the kids noticed a deep orange and pink sunset. Jacob decided to take them outside and capture a picture of it on his phone. He looked next door, and observed our teenage neighbor outside with his phone as well, poised and ready to capture the image. “I was thinking the same thing,” the boy said.

Later that night, we watched an episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat with the kids. The majority of the episode was in Italian, but they stuck with it. Ellie noted (with relief) at one point: “At least we laugh the same.”

Last night Mae was set on making a card for Everett’s 5th birthday. “It’s not for a looooong time,” she told me wisely. Everett caught wind of her endeavor and found me, heaved himself by the elbows up over the couch, and whispered”I gotta secret.” “What?” He leaned in close and said carefully: “How you spell Love and Mae?” I told him. He said “What’s a L again?” I showed him on my fingers. “Oh yeah,” he replied, slipping off the couch.

The most frequent game the kids play is “Nature Survivors”– and storyline dreamed up primarily by Soph. More often than not, they are perched on the roof of the playhouse (Mae always needs help getting up). I now recognize “Harriet” as Soph, “Addison” as Ellie (Soph is peer-editing, she says it’s spelled Adyson), and Tiffany and Timmy as the littlest. Adventures have included going to an “amusement park” in which Adyson fell out of a roller coaster and was dangling perilously on the tracks. Another time Adyson and Prince Alfred (an invisible character) were on their honeymoon, a volcano erupted, and they needed to be rescued. Play seems to require no less than 57 costume changes a day and Everett has been running out of underwear because of it. Timmy loves dinosaurs, Adyson carries around a “fashion bag” all the time, Harriet wants to be a writer, and Tiffany has a headband collection. Apparently she hunts for them (headbands). Tiffany also loves eels from Chez Maurice, a restaurant the group robbed.

Cohen has invented his own version called “Search Party”- an attempt to dramatize epic nerf fights, but Nature Survivors usually wins out.

Jacob cooks a lot. I bake a lot. And also sit in rocking chairs a lot. Everyone I Facetime knows that I also jump on our toy trampoline a lot. Lately we like to eat outside even when it is a little too cold to do so. The kids have swum every day for the past week, even in the rain (and Sophie twice in her clothes.)

We’ve watched our favorite episodes of Parks n Rec over and over, and “Some Good News” and “Dude Perfect” are always lined up on YouTube (in addition to the old home videos my dad has been uploading.)

We planted new perennials along the fence and I like to just sit in a plastic folding chair and stare at them for a while There are harder, more monotonous and frustrating times, but always, always, those times come in waves, and waves, by nature, always recede. I write to ride the wave of gratitude even longer. (Thanks for making me, Soph!)

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On a walk I saw…

We walked early this morning, just after breakfast. No toy vehicles allowed- which elicited a wave of fury from Everett and Mae. The sky was blue, without an interruption of cloud, a blank canvas rather than a finished painting. Cohen walked 100 feet ahead of us, and Soph decided to stay home camped out on the roof of the playhouse with Jacob instead. But even still- there was peace. Everett held his planes as we walked, and Mae cradled Elsa in her elbow. Ellie noticed a small bird on the corner of garage roof and we stopped to watch it for a while.

We came home to sit outside on the empty patio, winter’s fallen leaves still covering the corners of the deck, small green shoots of perennials nearly invisible along the fence garden. Cohen swung on the giant swing listening to music while Soph and Ellie perched on the playhouse roof with notebooks, pencils, and baseball caps to indicate they were “spies.” When the older girls would vacate the roof, Everett and Mae would acquire the space, pulling themselves up like monkeys and then calling for help to get down.

We spread a large green blanket across the cement, and I brought out paper plates of cucumbers and carrots and chicken nuggets for lunch. Afterward giant piles of books were hauled outside, and everyone found a “nook.” Cohen returned to his place on the swing, Soph and Ellie found chairs on the pool deck, perched with The Penderwicks and a 2016 Briargate yearbook respectively, and Mae and Everett pulled up small chairs next to Jacob while he worked on his laptop.

Reading only lasted a few minutes for the twins, who quickly found a new game to occupy their attention, and “baseball matching” was laid out on the ground. We called Gaga Jayne and didn’t need to talk. She rocked on her swing and listened to us find matches. Everett would flip each small circle to discover a different MLB logo. “Miami Mah-lins,” he would say, “Not, Cah-di-nuls, SAINT LOUIS Cah-di-nuls.” We called Papa Gary and heard about his hearing aids but mostly just put emojis of skeletons and bears on his forehead.

We came inside to bake a box cake- funfetti. Cohen cracked the eggs, Soph measured the water and oil, and Ellie nearly sprayed her own eyeballs out with the PAM. They fought over who got to lick the bowl. In our foray through the pantry, Cohen found a tub of powdered Countrytime Lemonade and quickly managed to get all of his siblings to chant for the beverage in unison. “LEM-ON-ADE! LEM-ON-ADE!” I walked up from the basement steps and found them huddled in the doorframe, giggling, knowing they had the one-cup-of-juice-a-day rule beaten.

There is the temptation to write something profound today, something that will satisfy this thirst we are feeling for answers, to discover a new truth that has been gleaned from these uncertain times. But more often than not, we remember rather than discover, we remember that what we need is really very little, very simple, and has indeed been with us all along.

A few nights ago, on a walk by myself, I saw what was in front of me. So many people looked me in the eye. The first man I passed spoke with a direct address: You have a good day he said looking right at me. The next woman I saw from afar, walking slowly. Her gray hair blew in the wind and she found my eyes and said with triumph “we will not be defeated.” I watched a dad play baseball with his son in their backyard. The boy was in full uniform, white baseball pants, jersey, cap. There were no bleachers, stands, or fans. Just his dad, poised and ready with a bat, waiting for the surely off-kilter pitch.We held eye contact for longer than normal, these strangers and I, perhaps because these changes remind us of what is constant- of that which never changes- that we are here together.

And as I walked a little bit further, I thought about how we are typically like horses pawing our hooves at the ground, ready to burst forth from the starting gate- itching to go, to be any place but where we are. But the Now is pulling us inward for the time being, back into ourselves, back to the discovery of the still small voice that has never left us. It is the spark amidst all sorts of change that remains constant. It is the voice that says I AM.

Last night the boys crawled in bed together, and Jacob snapped a photo. He told me as he showed me the picture: “God help us if that’s not the cure to everything in the world.” Which of course, it’s not. But in other ways, perhaps in the ways that really matter, it surely is. Grace upon grace to you in this uncertainty- in the boredom, pain, and beauty of it. May we have eyes to see what is in front of us, and ears to hear the Voice that has been there all along.

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About a month ago, the kids and a friend spent some time playing in the snow on the hill across the street from our house.  After quickly discovering that the slushy powder was useless for sledding, they realized it was just about perfect for fort-building, and proceeded to roll several giant snow-boulders together in odd formations. I sat there and watched them in a foldable lawn chair, shivering but glad to be away from the weekend laundry.  The three older kids each began their own fort, hoping– I think– to eventually combine the formations into one large structure, but they tired before actually connecting them.  The snowballs loomed tall for the next month, weeks after the snow had melted around them, our own little Stonehenge on the hill of Cimarron Drive.  We would drive past them marveling at the mark we had left, until today when that mark was nearly gone.  We were there— I would think as we drove past.  And some other thoughts lingered out there on the edge of language, some thoughts that I couldn’t quite express.

And so a Stonehenge of words… to remind myself I’m here…

Cohen- now eleven, has started showering every morning before school.  “Because hygiene” he says.  Samples of Old Spice and Degree line the top of his dresser next to his collection of plastic baseball hats, trophies, and the small camel his uncle brought him from Egypt.  He’s going through the annual jaunt of sleeping in his closet, feeling the safety of the three walls around him, Everett’s clothes shoved to the side, blankets piled high in a cozy nest.  He watches Clone Wars with diligence and plays football with Everett almost as much- gently tackling him as they both bound across the living room carpet.  He’s been saving diligently for a new pair of slippers, and recently made enough to buy a pair (size 8- 2 sizes too big so  “I’ll grow into them”).  He still refuses to eat nearly all types of meat and vegetables- but he’s trying to appease us by putting kale in sugar-stocked smoothies.  He’ll eat buttered noodles and ice cream by the gallon, and no one can infuriate Sophie and Ellie like he can.  His laughter can fill a room.

Sophie wears her patterned palazzo pants and “Yellow Submarine” t-shirt at least once a week and pumps out drawing after drawing of comic-like sketches.  After starting a game of Risk (which we obviously wouldn’t finish), she discovered “Chad” was the name of a country in Africa and later wrote in her journal that this fact “had her in hysterics.”  Before bed she must confirm that Jacob and I are still awake, and requests that we watch Parks & Rec  because the theme song has become a make-shift lullaby for her.  She’s fierce in basketball and has mastered the dribble-while-pushing-up-glasses maneuver.  Often she prefaces her stories with, “Mama, I have three things to say about that,” and goes on to list the details in numerical order.  Nothing is harder for her than practicing piano, but she finds chords that sound good together in a way that I never could.  She’s always up for a game of Horse, school, or “writer’s club”– the latest fantasy game they’ve made up in which they spy on me and Jacob. (Or- as we’re known in the club- Lynette and Clifton.) [sophie is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!- edit added by Soph]

Ellie turns 7 at the end of this week and has confirmed no less than 10 times that we must wake her before we leave for work to help her style her hair for “crazy hair day.”  For two weeks she’s been frustrated at dance class, unable to master the “shuffle-ball-change-shuffle-flap” until recently when she discovered she can do them in circles around our island.  She pumps out drawings as fast as Sophie, and our kitchen table is a near constant home for blank paper and markers.  Like her siblings, she can throw down some pretty epic meltdowns; in a recent passionate outburst she spread every article of clothing she owns all over her bedroom floor.  She is the quickest to help Everett and Mae when they struggle, and doesn’t mind playing all by herself on the “snow mountain” at the edge of the cul-de-sac.  Her friend wrote her a letter that said “You have such a big heart.”

Mae somehow weasels her way into our bed without us noticing nearly every night.  When inquiring about the time she asks “How time is it?” and still randomly puts “k” sounds in a variety of words.  “Mommy- can I have some kassert?” This afternoon she danced to jingle-bell rock in the front hall. From my spot on the couch I could see her side-stepping back and forth in the foyer, entering and exiting my gaze like an actor crossing an unmoving camera.  She loves to help with ANYTHING- her latest escapades have been fixing the bathroom wall with Jacob (in which she was rewarded with a paintcan-to-the nose, poor girl) and helping me make baked mac n’ cheese (fistfuls of parmesan and panko breadcrumbs in her mouth during that one.)  She and Cam and Everett play “belly squat” at Grandma’s, a game in which they run shirtless around the house like barbarians.  Every story is typically addressed to Everett, opening with an enthusiastic “Hey Look!”

Everett recently went through a bucket of misplaced game pieces, and upon finding three separate hourglass sand-timers, lined them all up in a row.  He kneeled on the floor, eye-level with the timers, and chanted “Go geen, go geen.”  “Geen is gonna win!!”  When he doesn’t like dinner, he’ll bolt to the pantry to find an Oreo before any of us knows what is happening.  He plays game after game after game after game, Uno, Bugs in Kitchen, baseball matching, Candyland– over and over again, sometimes electing to play against himself.  At least the “cinnamon roll” (aka chocolate bonbon) card has been ripped to the point of no-return so we can no longer accuse anyone of cheating.  He hates putting on chapstick and clipping his nails and shows us just how strong he can be when we try to get him to do either. His hand perches gently on my shoulder as I read to him, the warmth of it stretching to my heart.

Last weekend, walking from the grocery store to my car, three plastic bags dangling from my arm, the rest of my cart full to overflowing (“I have a lot,” I warned the man who got in line behind me at the checkout.  He smiled kindly and said “You must have a lot of mouths to feed.”) Bright sun warmed the cold February air, the sky a palette of blue above me.  After I finished loading everything into the trunk of the Expedition, I caught a young mother and father walking their toddler into the store.  I could only see their backs, but I noticed both tilting their heads toward the sky, their arms pointed up in the same direction.  I followed their gaze along with the child and found the tiny airplane in the sky.

I got into the front seat, slamming the car door behind me. People still stop, I said quietly to myself, releasing a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.  They point to the sky and say look.  They see something quite old as new because they know that is what we are here for.


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Little memories (Co-written by Soph)

Memories from Christmas break:

After most of the presents were opened, Sophie hands me a slip of paper that says “go look at your desk.”  I went up to find several notebooks full of her stories.  For the past few weeks whenever I would go in her room, she would yell for me not to look at the left side of her bed.  Apparently- she had been busily preparing her work.  Titles included: “A Year in the Life of the Schafers”- a big family whose older brother Ben comes home from his job as a “construction worker” and his sisters like “Rita Book” and “Petunia” go trick-or-treating.  Other titles included “Jolly Old St. Nick” and “Write”.

Sophie and I went to see Little Women.  She snuck little upward glances at me especially when she noticed me sniffling during the scene with Jo and Beth on the beach.  My favorite line was when Marmee told Jo “There are some natures too noble to break and too lofty to bend.”  Sophie ate M&Ms and I drank a giant diet coke and the winter air was warm as we walked back to the car.  I squeezed her shoulders and said “That was so fun.”  (Sophie is watching me type this and she just asked: “Why do moms squeeze shoulders so much in serious books?)

Some great quotes from Everett:

(After opening his fifth dinosaur shirt/ slightly rolling his eyes and sighing): Why I keep getting dinosaur clothes?

Looking outside this morning: “Hey- it’s sunny! When t-ball start?”

Responding to Mae’s delighted and giggly observation that we were in Chicago as we drove back from the planetarium.  Mae: “We’re in the city!” Everett: “Everbody know that Mae-Mae”

Looking up from the downstairs as Jacob comes down in the morning and notices crumbs around his mouth: “Somebody left the chocolate chip cookies out.”

Walking out of pantry (on multiple occasions) after we can’t find him for a few minutes. (Smacking lips): “Uh- I had uh Oreo”

We must have asked him 50 times before Christmas, “What do you want Santa to bring you?”, knowing full well that his response would be a “mighty pups tow-uh”  On Christmas morning we were poised and ready with the camera as he opened a large box, his last present of the morning.  As soon as he pulled down the paper, Sophie and Ellie quickly claimed “Oh- it’s not a mighty pups tower.  It’s the lookout.”  Jacob and I exchanged glances.  Apparently Santa had goofed- there’s a difference between the look-out and the mighty pups tower??  For the next two days we faced Everett’s upturned brown eyes questioning “Why I not get a mighty pups tower?”  Thankfully, he’s moved on quickly and is content to play with the look-out.  When he plays with Marshall you can hear his little voice say “I’m ready for a wup wup rescue!”

We made Christmas cookies one of the first weekends in December– the same weekend our washing machine broke and Jacob was down for the count with a fever.  As my dad was helping us install the washing machine, he’d occasionally glance back into the kitchen and notice the flying flour and the demands for the rolling pin and the food coloring staining everything.  At one moment he looked straight at me and said “You’re brave.”  Or very very crazy.  But we were going to make cookies! Cohen made Santa a “pizza cookie” and Sophie made classic holiday favorites like “Nancy with the fat lips” and “Bob the cranky old man in suspenders” and “Jimmy the super smart guy in green underwear.”  Everett and Mae ate plenty of dough.  Ellie made a pair of mittens that Mae  sneezed all over.  Aside from the mittens- the cookies were utterly delicious.

Everyone but Cohen taking a thousand selfies on our echo show.  Everett made his classic  “raised eyebrows pursed lip” face that made them all laugh.

We went to breakfast with Santa at Cary-Grove.  Cohen asked for Jedi Fallen Order, Sophie asked for a real dog, Ellie asked for a stuffed dog, Mae asked for a frozen castle, and Everett asked for- you guessed it- a mighty pups tower.  We were the first family to be called, but Mae would only go at the end of the event, after she had watched all the other kids go up.

Since Christmas has come and gone, we’ve enjoyed having no where to be.  I’ve found myself breathing deeply a lot. We have time for nerf battles after dinner. We’ve played more rounds of Chick-A-Pig, Dutch Blitz, and Bugs in the Kitchen than I can count (Ellie, Soph, and Everett’s favorite games respectively.)  We watched Lord of the Rings and ate Chinese on New Years Eve.  Sophie made up a game with a time listed on little sheets of paper and we all had to search for our matching “Time” and when we found it we got the candy that was attached.  The big kids made it to midnight and we watched a suspender-clad man doing circus tricks on a long metal pole on the Chicago NYE special.  He looked like he stepped out of Fiddler on the Roof, which made the circus tricks kind of odd.  Sophie and Jacob have now affectionately dubbed it the New Years Eve of the “1830s Jewish pole dancer.”

After the Merry Cary Parade, the kids performed a show to all the songs of Frozen 2.  Sophie directed from behind the scenes, shouting things like “louder” and “speak up” and “everybody on the set!”– earning her the gift of a megaphone at Christmas.  Halfway through Everett walked on set in a giant pair of construction boots making everyone burst into a fit of laughter.  Cohen was the camera man, filming everything.

Mae pronounces “ka-sert” and “ka-jamas” for desert and pajamas.

Christmas night we sat around a bonfire at my parents.  We didn’t need coats– the air was so warm.  There were lights strung across the top of the pergola, and you could see the stars.  Sophie stumped me with “Into the Unknown” as we played hangman.  The cousins ran around the back yard playing what Ellie eventually dubbed “tree tag”, hopping from ice chunk to ice chunk in the grass.

Soph says my last line to this post should be:  “It’s a wonderful life.”

Signing off! – Liz & Soph


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Chopping Ice

A few weeks ago the kids came alive chopping ice along the edges of a nearby pond.  The intensity of their effort astounded me, and as is the case with effort, joy quickly followed.  Papa Gary took them to the newly frozen water armed with shovels, hammers, and rakes.  We covered their little fingers and toes in gloves and snow boots.  Jacob and I followed to observe– first as supervisors, but quickly becoming students ourselves, unintentional witnesses to a lesson in wonder.  The kids would smash the ice along the edges of the pond with their rakes and hammers, grunting with effort to haul in oddly shaped shards of frozen water.  They would cry out what “state” the latest piece would resemble.  “I’ve got Minnesota!” Sophie would shout, “I’ve got Michigan!” Ellie would respond.   Again and again and again- they’d cry “Look it! Look at how much I got that time!”  They breathed heavily, cheeks pink from movement and cold and delight, never once noticing how frigid and wet they surely were. Jacob and I just shook our heads, initially confused by their joy, but eventually giving into it, taking our own pictures of the ice shards as if they were newly discovered diamonds.

For isn’t that the truth of things- that it is not in efficiency, production or even purpose that we find meaning, but in the experience of life itself.    “It is not meaning that we are seeking,” Joseph Campbell said, “But rather the experience of being alive.”  And aliveness- strangely enough- has nothing to do with what you can accomplish (futility actually might be its friend)– or what reason lies beyond the experience, or what will come of that moment in the future.  Aliveness abides in Being itself.  The ice would obviously melt, many of the states were split before we were even able to give them proper witness, and there was no way to transport or store the mini-glaciers (though Papa Gary surely tried.)

Later on, we ate dinner around a crowded table. Darkness closes in around us early now, making our home its own light in the vastness beyond, like the small, soft glow of a planet surrounded by a much larger darkness.  Cohen and Jacob hash out fantasy football, Sophie recounts how kids chased each other at recess, and Ellie tells us how she read the part of the “raccoon” in her class play. Everett recalls how somebody  “pulled Mae’s shawt at pee-school.” I asked him what he did when he saw it, and he said “I cried.” (Be still, heart, be still.) Most of us all speak at once- starting sentences and usually not finishing them. The kids leave the table too early.  They shove stools over to the refrigerator to dig through the drawers for shredded cheese and ketchup. 

One day it will be quiet. Trips to the pond will surely be different then, and it’s true there will be fewer interruptions at dinner.  In a new Avett Brothers song that made me cry, Scott sings “I’m bracing for loneliness, I know it’s coming”.  And I feel that.  Because I can see my future self sitting at an empty table; the scrape of chairs against the floor and the clatter of dishes and the cacophony of voices will all be echoes then– and now vivid faces will eventually turn into mirages or ghosts.  It’s like I’m seeing my own eventual nostalgia- and those ghosts and those echoes make tonight’s voices and fingerprints and tears heavy with aliveness.

But don’t you see? (My soul asks me)  In The Now there are no ghosts- that me in the future will still be me- those moments just as real.  Surely– the moment will be different, but not lacking.  The moment has meaning not because it will end (as it surely will), but because it is here now.  And I think I am wrong about the ghosts and echoes, for that future empty table will have its own Being, just like piling up the ice had meaning, even though we knew (did we? did they even consider for a moment?) it would melt.

Now- even now!– table quiet or loud, chairs full or empty– this moment is calling you to wonder.  And though I cannot escape bracing myself for loneliness, I’m reminded that I cannot escape from a universe that is filled with the wonder of being, as long as I am.




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A snapshot:

We drove to Royal Oaks yesterday- windows down, listening to The Shins and The National, breathing in air so sweet it demanded I close my eyes to savor it.  We played on the giant (but somehow smaller now, since the kids are bigger)- tractor and firetrucks.  In the bottom of a large toy boat I peered through a porthole to ask Mae where the ship was sailing, and she said “Mackinac Island.”  The ship’s imaginary concession sold M&Ms and Skittles.

A tractor pulled a large wagon and its riders toward the back of the orchard, and we tasted our first bites of the late August crop: Zestar apples, which I kept miscalling “crispers”.  Cohen- always wary to step out of his daily regiment of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, bread, and noodles, described his reaction to the taste: “I love these,” he said, “It’s like I’m eating an apple for the first time.”  He would come home and help his dad and siblings make an apple pie, and later when he had friends over, he’d declare he “made the apple pie for them.”  (A few weeks ago, as he insisted on making cornbread muffins for dinner, he called from the kitchen “Did Bing Crosby sing in White Christmas too?”  He’s a 10 year old boy going on 60 year old gentleman and I love him for it.)

And another…

This afternoon I watched Mae attempt to “jump” on her scooter.  Upon the quick discovery that it’s difficult to get a scooter bigger than you are completely airborne, she completed a two-footed jump on the ground and then lifted the scooter up with her arms.  She’d repeat the routine: jump off the ground, lift scooter, jump off  the ground, lift scooter.  In her mind– she was jumping just like her big brother.  And the work it took to complete this task over and over again!  That’s what we’re all doing, it seems, piecing together each task as best we can, and ultimately determining for ourselves when to say “That’s it. That’s what I intended, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”  When you look from above and see the whole story, we’re jumping on the sides of our scooters and then lifting them and then taking pride that we jumped.  And I actually think the Storyteller finds this delightful.

And another…

At school, I have a young man who struggles with a slight stutter in class.  The first week of school, I received the most polite e-mail, with a short formal request in which he shared how he stutters and to “please be patient with him.”  My heart burst in my chest.  Of course.  Later that week, as the class circled up for discussion, he was one of the brave few to respond.  In front of everyone, patiently sorting his thoughts– patient with us, trusting we’d listen, and so patient with himself, waiting for the words to come.   He’s teaching everyone right now, I knew without quite thinking it, “He’s teaching us what it means to be human.”  Later on, as kids sat in small groups, he asked a simple question requesting clarity on some instructions I had given.  I listened, watching him work through the words, and all I could think was “there’s Jesus.” I struggle to recapture the experience with words– as the word Jesus comes with so much Evangelical and religious baggage (I find it difficult to speak about him– Jesus– with the same brazenness I’ve had in the past.)  But it’s the word I have and the story I’ve been given- and it was the only word I could muster. The boy was so perfectly teaching me what is means to be human– which of course, is all we need to be to see the Divine.

And finally…

Friday night we had friends over- and as I sat telling Sophie “just one more story” I reflected on how our first “First Friday” gathering was likely about six years ago this month.  “You were three,” I sad, not quite believing it.  Something that seems so brief to me has now been shaped into something that is her life.  That’s what is happening now- her childhood.  Her struggles, her joys– Eggo waffles in the morning and hastily completed homework sheets, good-bye kisses and midnight tugs on my shoulder in bed–  all the scenes coming together, becoming the reel that upon reflection, will simply be one Life.  There is something being shaped, something larger than myself, calling the script forward, spinning us ever-increasingly outward, like the tail of galaxy that can never quite catch itself in orbit.

“Mommy!” Cohen just called.  He runs upstairs.  “What?” I ask.  “Just touching base?”  He sighs and says “Yeah.  I just didn’t know where you were.”  I’m here, buddy, I think as I type.  Let me always be where I am.  I get to be here.  So does that boy in my classroom, the trees reaching heavenward in an orchard, even the apples that have fallen and lie decomposing on the ground– even in entropy, simply being themselves. I get to be here. So does my oldest son, and the growing  hearts and limbs and spirits that are my kids downstairs.  Like Mae, we pretend to jump and discover we’re not really pretending, and we’re patient with ourselves and others along the way.  We stare at the sky etched by the branches of  trees yearning skyward and see Life for what it is: Blessing.



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snapshots of July 2019- mostly for family

Cohen’s latest loves include hashing and rehashing the most over and  underrated players in the MLB.  He talks with Jacob in a language I understand only slightly more than Star Wars.  He loves to imitate the champs in Ninja Warrior- and I spied him doing their signature moves as he made his way off the high dive the other afternoon at the pool. (He wasn’t with anyone else he knew at the moment- so the moves were just for him.)  He can’t go to bed without reading his Snoopy or Big Nate comics, and if his friends are over, he’s making them play wiffle ball.  Jacob introduced him to Weird Al Yankovich and we lost him to the computer for over two hours.

Sophie is able to capture all the cute things the babies do and tell me the stories of everything I miss or don’t hear because sometimes it feels like there is everything going on all of the time (and other times like nothing– which is strange.)  “Mama, mama,” she says as I unload the dishwasher and wipe down the table, “Guess what Everett just said.  Guess what Mae just did.” (Well- usually flip those two subjects)  She’s constantly drawing and starting stories.  She recently just started one entitled “Teddy: My Life with the World’s Greatest Pup” and left a blank square where she wrote “Place picture here.”  She’s taking a creative writing class where she doesn’t know anyone else– and she said she loves it but she “can’t wait to write long stories.”  Her two favorite questions are: Who is your favorite Disney princess? and Who is you favorite character on the Who Was Show?    It think I have answered these questions approximately 42 times but that doesn’t stop her from asking them. She also made a map of Cary (after coloring several collages about different cities in a coloring book she and Cohen constantly fight over)– and she made sure to include the Drive Thru Burger King after Cohen suggested it.  She still hates tying her shoes and still love reading books.

Ellie shifts between playing with the big kids and the little kids.  Her latest summer loves are playing Uno (sometimes regular, sometimes Uno Attack), and War— usually with Everett.  Everett’s common lines during this experience are “I gonna win!” or “Ooooooo-no”   She loves to swim (favorites in the pool are jumping competitions and hand stand competitions).  She is also obsessed with doing head stands that always make me worried.  She dances some weird tribal dance called “Umba-lay-ahh” and we’re not quite sure why- but it’s funny.  The other night at dinner I caught the utter captivation in her eyes as Cohen and Sophie argued over something.  She hangs on their every word.  She looks more grown up than she ever has before.  She wants to explain and say so much more than she can- which often makes her sound crazy or like a sage.  This morning it was “Mama- I know how to see everything.”  Sage would have stopped there- but then she started describing pulling her shirt over her face and then taking her picture in front of a mirror and I lost the storyline.

One of Everett’s most common lines is “I getting bigger now.”  Right now he and Cohen are running from the black book shelf in my room to the bed. (Well- Cohen was- and then Everett said: “I do it toooo”  He loves to play Uno and War as much or even more than Ellie- and he was the only one along with Cohen who didn’t wind up crying after a nerf war that the big kids prepped for for over 45 minutes. (All three girls were crying within one minute of starting.)  He wrestles with Cohen and serves himself ice cream and speaks in this slow falsetto voice that makes my heart melt.

Mae loves being “beautiful” (donning necklaces and eye shadow all across her forehead) and wearing ANYthing and pretending it’s a cape while singing to Frozen.  Capes have included actual costumes, towels, and long blankets.  When she talks she TALKS and makes my heart smile because every word she says defines HISTRIONIC.  She and Everett play “chase” and “baby” and they both love following the big kids around whenever they have friends over. (And strangely enough, the big kids like it too.)  She unwraps at least four bandaids a day to cover her invisible “squito bite” she got two weeks ago.

A few days ago at story time at the library I took a seat in the back because nobody needs to sit in my lap any more.  I watched a mom with her 6 month old- I caught her holding him close for a long time- her eyes closed, her breath slow, her nose just touching the back of his head.  She knew where she was and wasn’t anywhere else. She didn’t know I was watching, and I could still cry at the beauty of it.



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Slow, children at play


The practical tasks of our morning routine could probably be accomplished in eight minutes.  But it’s never eight minutes– as life (thank goodness) is never just practical.

After coming in from a run, hair frizzed to the max, dripping sweat, adorned with a glob of toothpaste I had apparently not wiped from my chin- the morning kicked into gear.  Cohen had the milk and Cinnamon Toast Crunch out and Everett requested the same.  Cohen and I argued over whether or not he should donate all of his old school supplies– I won out on a few items, and he won out on others.  Seriously- the kid needs to go into conservation. 376th pencil bin for his room, here we come. (+2 minutes)  Ellie came down in a giant purple walk-a-thon T-shirt and just needed to be held for a bit, so we rocked in the gray rocking chair for approximately 30 seconds before more frozen waffles were requested for the toaster oven.  (+.5)

Cohen told me about how his favorite spot to play is catcher,  and I ignored Mae  dumping out half the syrup bottle out of the corner of my eye.  (+3/ +2) We looked for misplaced toothpaste and hair ties and socks and delayed putting on shoes until after a few rounds of “Disney Queen” dancing were completed. (They all jump out from behind “backstage” — a blanket that’s draped over an overturned coffee table). (+5)

Everett chased Cohen and Soph down the driveway before they wrestled their way into Mrs. Poe’s van, and I dropped off Ellie, hearing her say “Hi Mr. Tony,” to her gym teacher as she exited the car. (Even though “We’re supposed to call him Mr. Bruno now”) (+10 seconds).

I drove the babies/twins to Home Depot for sand for their sandbox I will likely regret buying. Out of car, into cart, out of cart, into car.  Then we made our way to Target.  Both kids had to work together to haul the giant supply of toilet paper in the cart. (+1).   They bunny-hopped down the aisles and informed me about the correct bread “papa likes to buy.”  (+2) We found a toothbrush and headbands and they said “Let’s bunny-hop some more!”  (+2). We checked out our items, accidentally double-scanning the toothbrush, and Everett got to grab the card out of the card reader.  (+2). We returned to the car. Every time we get in the vehicle they demand to get in their seats on their own. “I do it!”   Everett scales the carseat like a rock climber and must reach for the coat clip in the ceiling. If any step is skipped in the process, he must begin all over again.  This works until it…. doesn’t. (+10).

That afternoon they emptied a toy bin and piled each toy one by one on the coffee table.  Mae proceeded to create “stations”. “This is a ‘pooter station (computer), this is the baby station, this is the doggie station, this is the pencil station…and I’m the mama!” Everything was said with such gusto and confidence.  So much attention and care– such purpose. All of the stuff would get put back later, and they knew it– but it didn’t matter.

They teach me that: that it will all be put back eventually, everything will be returned. But that doesn’t matter.  We will organize and play with purpose anyway.

Recently, I saw a sign I had seen hundreds of times before: slow, children at play.  “It’s not just an instruction,” I thought.  “It’s also an observation.  Because we’re not just the people racing– we are the children too.”

Even on my very first day of summer vacation last week- filled with anticipation and peace for the rest to come– it only took about five underdogs (or “funder dogs” as Everett likes to call them) for me to be done and ready to move onto something different.  There must be something hidden there- some trick of the neurons that only the mystics must have- the ability to repeat, find joy, and repeat again.

Because there really is no where you have to be. (Well there is, but not really.) There is no race.  There is no rush- except in the races that are just for the fun of it– which is to say– all the races.

The trick of adulthood is to find enchantment in repetition- or perhaps- to cling to the truth that there is no repetition as there is only the ever-enchanted now.  After all- at tonight’s bedtime the earth will have progressed in its orbit, (you are 1.6 million miles away from where you were last night), thousands of people who were here yesterday will be here no more, and thousands more will have breathed for the first time.  Your hair grows, bones stretch, cells multiply:  and just outside your window, the same thing is happening to a nearly infinite amount of beings large and small.  Cosmic and microcosmic– all changing, all becoming, all new. Perhaps part of finding contentment in repetition is knowing that nothing is ever truly repeated.

Maybe this is part of being able to do the 17th “funderdog” and still enjoy it.

Everett hums and pushes his car up and down the side of the ouch.  Mae flips through the pages of the book she does not yet know how to read. They race to the foot of the bed and back in the rectangles of late afternoon sunshine- over and over and over again.



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