I remember twelve years ago when my mom shared a picture of an infant Cohen with some other women: "Just look at him," one lady said, "Pure potential." My mom told me about the story, and I still remember us marveling at the truth of it. Here are some moments that capture the fruition of what was once only potential: Sophie has never played soccer before. But Jane & Skye Penderwick (some favorite protagonists) played, so she gave it a shot. We showed up 10 minutes late (but still before the game-- win!) and she jogged over to her team. Within the first minute of being on the field, her face became an obstacle that blocked a powerful kick from her opponent. The players took a knee, I took a knee-- ready to bound onto the field like a crazed gazelle. No blood. Check. No tears. Check. I ran to her on the other side of the field as well, just to be sure (because I'm not quite sure how first-time-soccer moms are supposed to behave.) "You good?" I asked. "Yeah," she nodded. She worked so hard. She never gave up. She continued to be in the path of some mighty kicks, but she also had a few of her own. It was the second week in a row her team was slaughtered, but she walked off smiling. "I think we lost," she mused. Everett also had his first baseball game the next morning. He was in his uniform and wearing his baseball bag two hours before he needed to be ready. Jacob witnessed him anxiously wiggling his fingers as he walked into the garage, muttering to no one in particular: "I just can't believe it's my fawst ever game. I just can't believe it." He fielded the first hit and bounded from base to base with intensity and purpose. Cohen was a base coach, and he would conduct an intricately choreographed secret high-five/handshake with Everett each time he met him at third base. That's when I knew what it meant to have a melting heart. Mae recently discovered how to make a fruit salad. I had her help me a few weeks ago for her birthday party, and she has taken her new role as as a fruit salad aficionado quite seriously. She peels tiny clementines, dumps blueberries, and slices honey crispy apples with a butter knife. I have never seen a sense of accomplishment like when she delivered a bowl of sliced fruit to Cohen and his friends. Jacob snuck a few bites, but she warned him to "make sure there is enough for the boys!" Again and again throughout the weekend, Ellie navigated the roll of peace maker for her siblings-- giving up candy from a birthday goody bag, scooping ice cream for wailing five year olds, complimenting her other siblings after their games. She wrote us a letter the other day, "Thank you for playing with me," she wrote, and signed it, "your friend, Ellie." Tuesday afternoon, the house, per usual, was nearly ceaseless activity and noise. In the half hour between piano, soccer, and baseball-- Sophie slogged through fractions and spelling words, calling out every few seconds for computation confirmations, Cohen massacred the kitchen in an attempt to make a chocolate cake, Mae begged to help, and Everett was likely holed up in some corner sneaking time on an Ipad. In the midst all of this, Ellie found me and took my hand, holding up a book. "Can you read this to me?" she asked, holding up Ms. Rumphias. I hesitated. "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives," I told my sophomores the other day, as we discussed Tuesdays with Morrie. I took the book from Ellie, highly doubting the likelihood of getting all the way through it. Somehow, though, through a little bit of magic and all the prayers people pray for us-- we made it through the story. I focused on the words and my breath and the smell of Ellie's hair. Sophie stopped her fractions for a moment, and Cohen was quiet in the kitchen. I read the last few lines of the story: "You must do something to make the world more beautiful," "All right," I say. I do not know yet what that will be. "Why are you crying??" Sophie asked from her spot on the rocking chair. "I don't know-- you don't know yet," I faltered, "I don't yet... how we will get to make the world more beautiful. It's just such... such...." I recalled the photo of newborn Cohen. What beauty in infinite potential. If you're alive, you're still pure potential. -------- "Ready?" Jack asked. "Can you run?" Could she? A bobolink warbled the answer. "Yes," said Lydia, all hope and exhilaration. "Yes I can." And away the went, the three together, prancing, leaping, gamboling into the future. -Jeanne Birdsall "The Penderwicks At Last"
Lately I’ve been considering the memories that only exist in my own mind– those images or scents or feelings tucked deep into my neurons, often beyond language, that now, having passed, are real for myself and myself alone. Without me– they would not be. For instance…
The feeling of lying next to my mom; she’s on her side, knees together and legs bent in an L formation, the perfect resting place for my head. We’re on a navy blue couch in the living room; sunlight finds us through an overcast sky. Sometimes, when I was very young, I would fall asleep in my mom’s bed. I remember I would move just a little, stretch an elbow or a finger or a toe into the empty space to find her warmth, just to confirm that she was still there.
I also have this memory of being in a car– the seats brimming with people– thighs to thighs, shoulders to shoulders. I remember laughing– deep, guttural, gasping for air, laughter, the joke now lost to time. We were riding down a steep, tree-lined road–am I with my children, or am I a child myself?
I remember being alone as an adult, in the bathroom, walls pale blue, shower curtain black and white, lights bright. I hold the pregnancy stick in my hands. Two lines. Thank you, I love you, I whisper– to myself, to God, and maybe to the baby within me– for the first moment in my existence, not just one, but two. Not one, but two. Or maybe, not two but one.
What do you remember?
I think about how any person who had lived only one day would have enough memories to occupy themselves for eternity. Even if you replayed each moment– thereby doubling the length of your life– you’d actually have more reel-time than that. Because, after all, you might consider each scene from a variety of angles– seeing with the eyes of God, or an eagle or a mayfly maybe– the way the sunlight glints off your baby’s head that morning you were too tired to see it, the mischievous grin on your younger brother as he slipped into the closet just before you finished counting for hide and seek, your father’s patience as he played you in a game of Trouble– you see it all zoomed out and zoomed in– you focus on the details, yes– but you are omniscient as well– recognizing your place in the overarching composition, when that perspective was all but impossible before.
And right now- might I one day have a memory about this memory- about sitting in my darkened family room on a bitter-cold February night, lights off, fire on. Ellie perched on the arm of my rocking chair, Cohen sipping a glass of milk, discussing the ingredients of mayonnaise with Jacob and Sophie.
Each second, lived by me, and only by me– forming a perspective that is only my own. We each get to decide the story we’re telling, Jacob told Sophie the other night at dinner, Why not tell a good one?
I realize some of my memories are not mine at all, but instead have been passed down to me. I can see my grandpa on an October afternoon at the cemetery, patiently waiting until everyone had left the graveside ceremony, so he could scoop the earth back over the grave of my grandma. It takes me a minute to remember I didn’t actually see this- I heard about it from my dad– but I can remember it just the same.
I envision the future. In those moments before my final breath joins with the breath of eternity, what memories might linger before my eyes– transient and dancing, like candle flame on a wooden wall of a cold cabin, or indecisive snowflakes as they fall, meandering to the ground. Permeable, yes– but all the more enrapturing because of it. In those moments, what will I see? What will I sing? Who will I thank?
I once thought (and maybe one day will again) that we write, as Shakespeare said “in hopes [our] verses shall stand”— or in other words, in hopes that our words will live on, forever. But today, I fancy I write not to live forever, but to more fully enter into my own existence now. For what is this moment but an explosion of memory, a bursting forth of the infinite into Time, a singularity that expounds unceasingly? Image upon image, word upon word. Within each second and cell lies, as Rumi said, “the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Those images– buried in my neurons, that I and I alone posses. They are written, marked– not for those who are yet to come, but for myself, to settle myself into the abyss that is somehow also the Ground of all Being.
So much of life I’m on autopilot, but this afternoon, for whatever reason, I wasn’t. I wish I knew why. All I can tell you it felt good to laugh: here are some snapshots.
Jacob returned home from actual-real-people-work just in time to join another zoom meeting. “Just let me know when I should come down and prep the salmon,” he tells me.
“You can just leave your meeting like that?” I ask.
“Oh yeah,” he says, “It’s just la tertulia.”
“La tertulia,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Don’t ask me what it means,” he shrugs his shoulders. Apparently the tertulia is a weekly thing? “One time I asked, and they just go “the tertulia, you know, it’s… its’s la tertulia!” He held both arms out in “why don’t you get this?” manner. “I asked Mario and he just said that…” and then again, in a slightly exasperated Larry-David-esque style, “Eeets-sa, Eeets-sa tertulia!” Duh. I laughed.
Later we looked it up: an informal gathering to talk about current affairs, the arts, etc. So now, when corona is over, we want to host a tertulia. We’ll have tapas… we will “tertulia.” (I’m so in love with this word I’m already at the stage where I can change its part of speech.)
Shortly after Jacob went up to his meeting, I bellowed “screens off” to the kids, which, per usual, was met with complaints and requests of “just 10 more minutes,” — So I caved, and caved again, but eventually successfully pried them away 15 minutes later than when I wanted. I thought to myself if that was worth the battle. I realized I do it selfishly, actually– pry them away. It’s because I don’t like the way I feel as time slips by, not doing, not making, not moving. Teaching Fahrenheit 451 once a year will do that to you; Ray Bradbury has gotten in my head. (I’ll attempt to weave back to this poetically in my conclusion: just wait.)
Ellie and I taught Mae how to play Phase 10— she relished the attention– she got to be on her OWN team! We transitioned to Uno and Jacob took a break from his tertulia to put potatoes in the microwave and the salmon in the oven. (By far, this is the meal that has the largest gap in “liz loves it” to “the kids despise it” ratio— but I keep requesting it and Jacob keeps making it and the kids keep complaining.)
Soph commanded the floor at first during dinner, telling us about a girl in her class “… who drinks coffee, and when she’s tired, it’s because she missed her morning coffee.” “Nah– I don’t buy it,” Jacob says, shaking his head, “I think she just likes to tell stories.” The rest of the kids and I disagreed with Jacob– some of us vehemently, “No way!” we said, “She’s telling the truth!” Soph told us about how she was working on her South Dakota presentation with this girl as her partner, and “… I was trying to keep us on task, but RIGHT when Mrs ______ came in, _______ asks me ‘So, what do you like better, dogs, or, YOU know….” We laughed and I decided I would want this girl to be my partner, she just sounded so INTERESTING. I’m thankful Soph remembers the experience like a story, because it’s a beautiful one she is living, for sure.
The kids volleyed facts back and forth about states and endangered species (the topics of Soph and Cohen’s reports respectively. (Did you know people wrestle in a pit of mash potatoes in South Dakota? That blue whales have hearts the size of Volkswagens?). And of course, since blue whales were mentioned, Jacob started talking about the amazing social intelligence of water mammals. So then I wondered aloud if social intelligence is purely beneficial, or whether it’s ever impractical, and might actually hinder survival. We decided we didn’t know. “But,” Jacob added, “Elephants and whales, arguably the species with more social intelligence than humans, are both matriarchal societies.” We pondered that factoid as I spread Dawn on the greasy ceramic plates I had burned bacon on in the microwave. Abstract and concrete, thoughts and objects, always side by side.
The conversation transitioned, and at one point Jacob told us about a new Australian baseball player the White Sox just acquired and attempted to mimic the player’s Australian accent from an interview he had seen. Apparently, the reporter had commented to the athlete that the White Sox were paying him a lot of money. Jacob prepped himself viscerally to undertake an authentic Australian accent. “Upon the end of the deal,” he mimicked quickly, like a veritable down-under auctioneer, “I hope to make it look like a Bah-gen [bargain].” So this is something weird about me– poor Australian accents are akin to men sticking their legs out at right angles and pointing their toes: both bust my gut every time. I just don’t know, I tell you. I just don’t know.
I unpacked the twins’ backpacks and marveled at their number and letter worksheets from their second week back at pre-school. This is something we wouldn’t have done with the other three- but there we were, looking at the lines they traced and eventually wrote on their own: we imagined the concentration, the tongue-slightly-out-of-ajar-mouth precision they likely had as their young fingers gripped orange and blue markers (their favorites) to craft zeros and the letter “A”. I couldn’t throw them away. I tucked it next to “fun facts about dolphins” guide Sophie made yesterday. Both are nightstand worthy.
After dinner, I cleaned up while Jacob meandered with the dog. As I wiped counters, he (attempted to?) sweep– and I made fun of (criticized?) his half-hearted, one-handed sweeping technique. “BOTH hands,” I told him, wrenching the broom from his arms, “See how much more force you can get?” And he looked at me and said “I don’t think you realize how much force I have with this one arm,” and he proceeded to grab the broom, looped his forearm around it in the most unnatural way possible, and spastically- albeit passionately– ran it back and forth under the table. “My god, this is where we are,” we both thought, but didn’t need to say. Instead, we laughed.
Most evenings are not like this. I’m not quite sure why tonight was. We played and we talked and we thought. I turned off auto-pilot for a bit and steered my own course, or at least noticed the ride, which might be just as important.
Addendum: I just tucked Everett into bed. He was nuzzled under the covers, but then propped himself up on his elbow to meet my gaze. His hair nearly reached his eyes, his brown eyes were softly smiling: “Mama, mama?” “Yes?” “Did you know, um, that a catuh-pilluh lays an egg, and it turns into a butterfly?”
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.
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
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!)
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.
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.
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
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.