Thursday, June 28, 2007

he doesn't understand irony

Brendan, age seven, spent half a day building a stunning pirate ship, complete with a billowing sail on a mast, all the while singing that the hills are alive with the sound of music-- at the top of his lungs and with deep sincerity. Looting and plundering, doe a deer a female deer.

A year ago Madeleine opened her extra special from-every-living-relative American Girl doll on her birthday, which is also Christmas night. I'd set aside one last present for Brendan to open, too.

"A BOAT?" He demanded with a shout, "A DUMB OLD WOODEN BOAT.... wait, what is that guy's funny hat? HEY IT'S A PIRATE BOAT! A COOL, COOL PIRATE BOAT WITH A CROCODILE!"

Madeleine asked what pirates do, and Scott quickly quipped, "We're not quite sure, but we know they love their mamas."

A few, just a few of my favorite pirate things, these.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I'm going to school. An official decision was declared on Father's Day, and I've been so busy and so close to elated disbelief that I haven't yet made announcements.

Not without fear and trembling, but I registered for classes and purchased a plane ticket, and I'm reading my textbooks. Frederick Buechner says the most important moment of a sermon may well be the silence before the speaking begins, the hopeful anticipation that something deeply meaningful will occur. Amidst the little tasks, setting up a school email account, wondering how I will pay all the school bills, needing this to work out, that silence of anticipation is where I live.

There and also atop Louise Erdrich's layer of earthen scum on the kitchen floor (see below). Where I live.

Madeleine and Brendan have crowded beneath my feet to make copies of sheets of paper dolls and all their paper accessories. Let's all wish them luck. Perhaps I should do the same, hawk something concrete at the yardsale to raise cash for school... Would anyone like to buy a blog entry?

my summer job as a mom

A week and a half into summer break and my children and I are cloistered in the room with the tiny air conditioner, pumping its heart out. The summer so far has featured long stretches of icy days reminiscent of spring, interspersed with wicked hot days like this one, high near 96. A week ago we were struggling to find long john pajamas and jackets.

Madeleine and Brendan heard about a neighborhood yard sale, and rather than part with any precious item from their belongings, they are drawing elaborate sheets of paper dolls to sell. It’s a brilliant idea that keeps them very, very busy and will likely net them only a few pennies. I try to insert a practical word now and then, such as “most people look at a yard sale as a reason to sort through their stuff and get rid of the extras.” I warned them of the same, last fall when they gathered and sold seeds around the neighborhood, and they netted twelve dollars plus some really interesting seeds. People want to pay these hard-working children, and who am I to argue against their entrepreneurial instincts?

Last week, we inaugurated summer vacation with a five-day whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania, where we met Scott’s dad for a few slow days of scooters, roller blades and porch swings. I walked into a dusty coffee shop and entered my childhood, but that’s another story for another day. Then Scott drove south with his father on an errand to Florida, while kids and I slowly meandered through the green hills in our small Jetta, stopping for a spinning wheel museum, for hours of baseball and dog walks with friends Steve and Aidan. Friday morning baseball followed until we could stay no more, yearning to move toward home. One trip to Madeleine’s favorite organic farm yielded cheeses and breads from heaven, and a final visit to dear friends who’ve moved across the state. Although technically we were home on Friday night, I worked late into the night with my “day job” online, so we slept through half of Saturday. When we visited with my out-of-town friend Byron over lunch at a neighboring college, it still seemed like we were on vacation.

And it still does! A small heddle loom arrived in the mail and we strung it up with a rainbow warp—one winter scarf was completed entirely by my children and I’ve started weaving the second scarf as their energy turned to paper dolls. They are so happy to be home, to be free of schedules and hurry. For now it’s blissful parenting. Children engineered smoothies for lunch, made of cantaloupe and peaches. St. Peter’s Fiesta will find us sailing down three story slides and riding the giant ferris wheel by the end of the week.

In another week and a half I’ll be teaching at the kids’ arts camp, then preparing for my first writing residency in Sante Fe. Until then I’m reading my homework (homework! It’s been a long time), working on repairs and sorting, and drinking an ice cold smoothie in front of the air conditioner.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

writer's advice

I can't even tell you where I found this, or how very much I needed to hear it.

Advice to Myself

Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Monday, June 18, 2007

artifacts from another time

In a drawer-- here is a crayon sketch of Brendan as a babe, and Madeleine's first designer handbag, created for one of her bears, I believe, when she was three or four. (It's crafted from a paper towel. I like that in a girl.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007


The queen of all lilac bushes lives a few steps away from my bedroom window, next to the brick patio. She is my pride and joy each April, her banner of scent announcing spring’s arrival. I tell time by her: how long until the blossoms open? How many branches can I give away, with plenty left for our multiple vases? A month has passed since blooming season and now I must deal with the undergrowth. Sprouts are pushing through the edge of the patio, through the stone retaining wall, too. I know nothing about duty—my landscaping neighbor Wayne tries to embarrass me into being a better gardener by pointing out my weeds. I have such an affection for him that I allow him to harass me—I know the names of those wildflowers, and I tucked them into the perennial bed on purpose. If Wayne knew I wrote anything about gardening he would laugh himself silly. So it’s just between you and me.

My daughter agreed to come outside if I’d help her make a tent from jumpropes and a flannel blanket. My mother crafted a baby sling when this child was born, from the same red tartan. We clip the corners onto a fence and a tree and the corner of the porch, and she lays down a red gingham quilt my grandmother Fern made for me, so she can read her next volume of the Oz books by Frank Baum, in the shade. We needed to leave Scott and Brendan to their naps—it’s been a big week for all of us, but the last week of teaching nearly did Scott in, and the last weeks of school have found Brendan in a heightened state of excitement. Our end-of-year parties lasted until the no-see-ums threatened to eat us alive, yesterday, so this nap is a good beginning to summer break, for both of them.

Madeleine tells me she is bored and threatens to return inside. I ask if she will bring us cold water. When she returns, we crush mint leaves into our glasses. I ask her what plant she’d like to learn about today, and she looks at me, amazed at the idea.

“I don’t know, mama. Which one would be good?”

“These columbine have very interesting seed pods—would you like to take them apart and see where the seeds live? That’s how scientists learn about things, you know, they look carefully to see what they can learn from the insides.”

Madeleine eagerly sat at the patio table with a pair of scissors, a magnifying glass, and half a dozen seed pods, while I went to find the blue shovel.

The lilac starts are remarkably stubborn. Each one tosses soil onto my face and head when I finally pluck it from the ground. This is probably because I don’t root them out often—I think I didn’t even bother to trim this bush last year, feeling blissfully free of gardening duty. This year, though, I’m the sole person responsible for this tiny patch of backyard. The two other abutting owners tiptoe around when they see me mowing and weeding, but I don’t mind. I don’t have much know-how, just enough to be dangerous, so I take the small shovel to the base of the lilac bush after a few false starts, and find one line of sproutlings to chop from the taproot. I start with the outermost lilac starts and dig up each one, working closer to the mother bush. The small ones I throw into the bin for weeds, and the larger ones I save for Cora’s backyard after they spray me with dirt from head to toe. I’ve already started rows of smaller bushes along the ugly stone wall to the back of our terraced yard. I own as many as I can sustain.

Madeleine brings me another round of water, and asks if she can take the small bushes to Cora’s house. I know what will happen, and I think about my two nappers. This is as good a time as any for her visit, so I say yes, and I know she’ll be un-bored for a few hours at Cora and Lila’s house.

I keep at the task of freeing my favorite lilac bush. She is so like me. She needs a haircut, a manicure, a little attention. She seems to believe that she can take up this whole corner of the yard, that there ought to be no end to her, in exchange for the goodness of those prolific spring blossoms. She pays no attention to limits, adding shoots and green leaves in any direction that seems good. I trim some of the smaller shoots from the center of the bush, and I dig as close as I can to the patio stones. I haul out the visible balls of roots, too, to make way for shade plants that will thrive under this small canopy.

As soon as I finish I take the scissors to my favorite forget-me-nots, “trimming back to the mound” as they say in the gardening books, so they might continue blooming. I eye the forsythia, huge and in complete disarray, just as much as the lilac bush. One forsythia threatens to bar my way to the compost bin! The pussy willow is far too large. Not today, my friends. Soon, but not today. I’ll have to borrow the hedge trimmers to get to the top of each of these shrubs, but I’ve done enough. The queen of lilacs looks open and airy. She is my first priority.

Scott emerges from his nap to tell me he’s going for a long bike ride, on this his first real day off of summer. I listen for Brendan waking, just as I listened when he was a baby, as I clean up the tools, the mower, the tent, the clippings. I take off my dusty Keens at the door, when I set down Madeleine’s orange bandana, her book, her blankets. When I look into the bathroom mirror, long fronds of forget-me-nots stick to my curls and a fine mist of soil covers my hair and face with grit. All that’s missing is a vine of green and a halo of leaves.

A quick shower with the lavender soap and I am ready for my little nap, too. But first a bowl of strawberries from the garden—small but delicious—and another glass of water with a sprig of mint.

Happy June. School is out. May you have a day off, to trim or nap, as you please.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Adjectives

There is more than one writer in my family.

We are the adjectives—artists, too—
We stick to the nouns
As your skin sticks to you.
I call the man great or good or sad.
I call the beast large or fierce or bad.
I paint the grass green
And the flowers gay.
We dance through the world
In our colorful way.

Madeleine brought this home from her third grade classroom. Two years ago, her class memorized a lengthy poem about the vowels and how they work with each other…

the beautiful journal

I am transferring files from the borrowed laptop computer, cleaning house at the end of this school year. I located this piece of noodling, written from a long self-directed writing retreat at Adelynrood.

Years ago I bought a beautiful journal, suede and a brown floral tapestry, gilded page edges, a ribbon page marker. I hoped to make the leap to a journal-looking journal rather than the terribly practical-looking journal. I tried to make a similar leap perhaps twenty times in the past twenty years, but I only write comfortably in a journal I carry at all times, and I’ll only make space to carry one book, and a hard-cover simply weighs too much to also carry a date book and to-do list… I have stopped trying. I write in spiral-bound notebooks, a particular kind with a column for my ever-rolling to-do list and for stray thoughts. I am fond of the stray thoughts. I am fond of my current projects living close-at-hand as I’m off running errands. I pull the car to the side of the road when I need to. I keep a long list of writing prompts in the front cover of my notebook at all times.

What is handy about this spiral notebook is it’s apparent no-nonsense look. Thus I can appear to be note-taking, while listening to the odd thoughts inspired by the room (this feels like summer camp), the smell (garlic bread baking somewhere and I wish it was for me), the quality of light (God is good), the stiffness in my back (must phone chiropractor). I can take notes, yes, and I can take notes for several subjects at once. I can jot down a brilliant line. “Like a kleptomaniac lecturing to her itchy fingers, ‘thou shalt not steal.’” Then I can return to the thought at hand, thinking about the beautiful journal, I believe I was saying.

Somehow, then, the beautiful journal has become the place for now-and-then entries, entries that are earth-shattering or writings I would not carry in my purse, or fiction ideas or revelations. I pick it up—the first page is that April day when I wrote in the sand with a stick.

The next entry, I prayed for relief for my housing situation, and the following entries are about moving to the summer camp—relief for the housing situation, and a good change. There are some funny entries about a terrible crush I had on a handsome young man—how Scott and I laughed over my fuddy-duddy old self as I nearly fell down each time the sweet fella walked by. (He was also quite, quite a dear person, and we were surrounded at the camp by gorgeous specimens of youth and vigor. We felt alternately “just like them” and like we were their protective, wise parents. These twenty year olds guessed our ages at 28, they said, as their jaws hit the ground with the word “forty.” It was strange. That’s a notebook note to follow up.)

I’ve written often about how angry parenting makes me, how hard it is. At this writing, it's less hard now, less wringing-- though it might not always be so.

So I pick up the beautiful journal, and open the first page, where I wrote “I AM A WRITER” in the sand, three and a half years ago, before I’d typed anything more than a journal page or letter. I found the original story, today. I wrote also, “WHAT I AM DOING IS WORK—MOTHERING IS NOT A LUXURY OR AN EXTRA. IT IS A NECESSITY.” April 2003. July 2006 I wrote that story in a grad school application essay, not having laid eyes on it in three years. It reads exactly as I remember it.

Where have I been, this past three and a half years? Right here, all along, and across the universe and back. I’ve just started reading the beautiful journal, and I wonder what else lies in those pages, now. It’s full of secrets, a letter to me. Someday I will likely burn the thing, likely, although just now I can’t bear to part with any of my writing, ever— it’s like following a trail of artifacts. Maybe I’ll follow the trail of artifacts all afternoon, and see what surprises are within.

Maybe I’ll add some more.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

a two-shower day

I begin the day tiptoeing toward the shower before anyone wakes, and laying out my favorite summer dress and my best red shoes, tossing my tiny makeup collection into the purse. The children need to dress up, too, for eighth-grade graduation, and when they are moving, they will take up all of my attention.

I end the day showering off the farm dirt with a poison ivy soap, then washing off the scent of the poison ivy soap with a second shower and lavender/hemp oil soap. As I sit down to do a little work at the computer, after the children are finally settled, I top off the day by pulling a tick from my scalp. In my mind I continue the baby book of firsts: age 45, my first tick. He only chose me because my delicious children were too far away, I know. They are tick veterans. I’ll check the children again in the morning. I hope I got all of him.

The true end of the day, though, lying in bed and sorting through the days pictures, the candids not caught on camera but in my mind.

Brendan has been looking forward to this day for a long time. Simon, his eighth-grade buddy, has helped him carve a pumpkin, pour beeswax into a sand-casted candle mold, and has held Brendan’s hand on the walk from the train to the circus. The dads who acted as official circus chaperones joked that they had nothing to do—Simon was clearly revered and in charge. He is not a demonstrative boy, but he takes his responsibility as a role model seriously, as the children hang from his arms and legs.

Brendan has also been looking forward to this day for another reason: The Suit.

We don’t shop for children’s clothes—we rather collect them from some wonderful Good Karma conduit of children’s clothing. My attic houses girls’ clothes up to size 14, and boy’s clothes up to size ten. I shop church rummage sales for the shoes some other boy grew out of too quickly, knowing my son will outgrow them quickly, too, and each year near Christmas I buy fresh white tshirts, socks, and new turtlenecks—but mostly we “shop from the attic” when each season changes. When the children outgrow clothes, we label bags “for Lila,” “for Eliza,” and “for James” if they are still good, and “grift shop” for the way my children used to mispronounce thrift shop. The bags are then stacked by the door, for the next stop on the conduit.

One exceedingly pastel boy’s outfit, apparently purchased for a ring-bearer in a wedding then never worn, hangs in the back of the closet, where it’s been hanging every summer since Brendan was four. We’ve never had an occasion and a “fit” at the same time. And that’s been fine with me, but not with Brendan. He’s fascinated by this little suit.

I am from the Midwest, where men brave pastels only after the age of thirty, and even then some men never don anything that could remotely be defined as “pink.” This little suit is not pink, but instead it is a pale yellow pair of Little Lord Fauntleroy shorts, with attached suspenders, over a white polo with yellow and pale blue accents. When he wakes he rushes to put it on proudly. The outfit is topped with a tiny blue- and yellow plaid vest. My son looks astonishingly like a catalog ad from the 1960’s, astonishingly like no self-respecting Midwestern boy would ever look, ever. Good thing we live on the East Coast. He leans back with his belly out, and looks three years younger than his age. He looks very handsome, in his preppy-boy-wearing-pastels sort of way. He needs to run back to change underwear because the little bees printed on the first pair were quite visible. He rushes to change, and returns with his comb and Madeleine’s apple-scented detangler hidden behind his back. I stop him before he douses himself a second time. Good thing he hasn’t learned about after-shave.

Somehow we’ve inherited a pair of Doc Marten oxfords, just a few days ago. He’s been itching for a pair of dressy shoes, and we had nothing to remotely match the pastel boy suit. Brendan tucks his handmade graduation card into his pocket for Simon, then asks for an apron to wear while eating breakfast—a brilliant idea.

Madeleine wakes more slowly these days. She is changing quickly, this young girl who is still quite slight in comparison to her classmates. She needs to sleep later, is prone to slamming doors and stamping her foot over small injustices. She, too, though is enchanted by the rare opportunity to dress up, when we have such a huge selection of Good Karma dresses in the closet. She chooses the pink gingham, which arrived in the same bag of treasures as the Doc Martens, earlier this week. We tussle over the white cardigan with the lace collar, over the cream-colored fisherman’s sweater. She fishes out her frilly socks with the shell beads crocheted onto the cuffs, and locates a headband covered with pearls. And she asks for an apron to eat her breakfast, too.

My bright dress looks garish next to these delicate flower children— if I described it, even though it is quite pretty, you would see something entirely different in your mind. It involves a print of red peonies, more subtle than they sound. Topped with a black short-sleeved shirt, the dress’s collar looks like a matching scarf. The dress is my favorite because it is long, but light as a feather, the perfect hot-weather dress. It is also made by my favorite dressmaker, who went out of business this year—I have five Anokhi dresses, collected over fifteen years, and this is the last of my collection, purchased, as the others, during a sale, but this one—okay it is apple green with red peonies—only caught my eye after the “75% off” was announced. Suddenly apple green was worth trying. The red of the peonies makes it less… green. It loves the red shoes and cries out for a shade of red lipstick I’ve not yet found. My everyday lipstick will have to do.

The morning is sweet and teary, with ethereal music by students and faculty, and speeches by each graduate. Brendan was hoping he’d be mentioned by name in a speech by his favorite eighth grader, but he contents himself in the part of the ceremony when the first-graders gift their eighth grade buddy with a long-stemmed rose. In his yellow and pale blue short suit, his lip trembles as the music plays. I don’t falter, myself, as his lip trembles—if he cries, the whole room will fall to pieces, because he doesn’t cry small and will fall at the tall Simon’s feet. Luckily, something distracts him and makes him smile, and we all make it out of the room alive.

I drop by the school for a quick meeting, and Cecilia grabs me on the way through the door.
“You don’t look like you are dressed for raking,” she says.

“Am I supposed to be?”

“Did you get the email? The third grade farm plot is going to be plowed, but it needs raking to get it ready for next weeks planting. I hoped to have help this afternoon, but I don’t think anyone is coming.”

“I can come after school,” I said. What would we be doing, anyway?

“Can you pick up Helen? That way I can get some work done this afternoon.”

“I’ll be forced to buy them ice cream, you know, to fortify them. Then I’ll meet you around three-thirty, with rakes.”

I drove straight north, stopping to run errands while still in my comfy dress, then grabbed a salad, a rare luxury to celebrate a good year of my own work on these solo days. Home, then, to pick up farm clothes and tools and cash, then straight south toward school and ice cream. Then further south to the organic farm, to prepare the fields for a “Three Sisters” planting of sister crops corn, beans, and squash. The third grade girls talk on and on about the afternoon with the older grade kids, playing Capture the Flag for hours.

They are already flagging when we arrive, with the ice cream long gone. They proudly carry rakes and hoes across the road, across the field, past the blueberry patch—then they drop to the ground exhausted in front of the shed built by their class. They offer twenty minutes of work before finding a stray dad to take them to play in the pond. Three moms and an assistant teacher rake and hammer stakes for another hour, strategizing the best location for four ten-by-ten foot plots, building model mounds for planting next week.

I sneak into the farm stand to pick up zucchini, plums, pink lady apples and a bottle of iced tea. The children have already shared juice boxes. I pack them up and drive home, phoning Scott to please pick up pizza and meet us at home.

“Graduation is funny,” Brendan announces. “Because it’s really happy and really sad. You’re happy someone gets to go do something else, but you’re sad because they won’t be part of the school anymore. Some people cried to leave their friends.” We talk about it a little more, our favorite parts of the day, the dress-up part, the family of snakes living near the field we raked.

Although they assure me they are starving, Madeleine and Brendan vote resoundingly for me to drive by the ocean for a look at the surfers. The icy breeze is startling and we quickly drive home, for the required poison ivy soap scrub, followed by the hot pizza and the welcome baths to wash off the poison ivy soap scent. Followed by much silliness and bedtime reading and finally sleep, so I can get a little work done.

A good day, between my two showers. A little work left for me, then, and a good sleep, next.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

a cell phone, a parking lot, a memory

I pull my minivan into the school parking lot with five extra minutes—a good boundary for a phone call. The ruffled pages of my journal to leaf through, and find the hospital number.

The ringing ends with a click, then a fumbling sound, then voices discussing what is apparently a news story. After a few moments confusion, I shout her name into the phone, “KAREN? KAREN ARE YOU THERE?” A fumbling sound again and I hear her “hello?” back, as she locates the phone, somewhere near the television speaker I’d wager.

“Hello?” Karen finally answers, out of breath. I wonder if she is figuring how to hold the phone, struggling to find a comfortable position after all that.

“Karen? It’s me, Denise.”

“Hi honey. How are you?” Her breathing is labored.

“I’m good, Karen. Things are fine, here. You’re in the hospital. I’m so glad you made it through surgery okay. How are you?” I don’t add the usual “and what do you need?” I can offer nothing but this phone call.

“I’m okay.” The end of her sentence trails off, not nearly okay. She asks about my children, about my writing, and then talks about the next place she will live, after the rehab hospital, after the burn unit. She thinks she will have work for me, she says.

I am quiet. Her family hasn’t spoken to her yet, then, about the shape of the future. Her sedation is heavy, with the recovery from the skin grafts. She knows she will not be moving to her home again, but she’s planning for a next place, a next independent place. I don’t allow myself to argue with her hope. That’s not my job.

I ask when she might be ready for a visitor, and she says not this week, “I’m so tired, honey, so awfully tired. It’s so much work being in the hospital.” She tells me she can barely stay awake for this phone call, and I hear that it’s true, she is struggling. We spoke for ninety seconds or so.

“You will call me again soon, won’t you? Next week, maybe? I miss talking with you. It’s been a long week," she says.

I smile at the understatement, a long week since your house burned down, long week since you lost what precious little you had left. “Yes, it has been a long week, hasn’t it? I miss you, too, Karen. Rest up and we will talk again soon.” We say our goodbyes.

The children sing their way down the school steps and out into the pickup area. I fold up the phone and pull my shoulders back in a stretch, undo the seatbelt and open the door into the sunny afternoon.

a day in the 'hood

Five years ago I decided to throw weekly "cooking" courses for the neighborhood kids, hoping to endear them to myself and hoping to get them to crowd someplace other than my house. Since they don't look like this anymore, I feel safe enough to post their beautiful faces online, complete with cheesecake.

Now I miss the crowding-into-my-house days, as the tall teens ramble with their friends, outdoors. They talk loudly and rudely, until the small ones run down from the houses to join them-- they clean up considerably, then, and become responsible and kind, teaching how to kick a soccer ball and how to fill a water balloon.

I joke with friends that I alternate between Martha Stewart and Atilla the Hun. This-- the cheesecake day-- was a Martha day.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

early June weather report

Early June, at the end of a long and cold spring, and the smell of freshly-mown grass is still a delicious novelty. An icy fog just settled over Cape Ann, taunting the little weather predictor on my computer screen. Forecast: seventy-two degrees, actual temperature fifty-nine.

My daughter will be muttering to her cold self that her mother sent her to school without a sweater. I see her in my mind, sitting at her desk with her corduroy hat pulled tightly over her ears, her spring-green dress tucked tightly around her legs. She’ll insist on wearing her purple fleece poncho during class—she’s been wearing the poncho since she was three years old, and it will be hard to give it up. She hid beneath it yesterday as her beloved teacher described how Madeleine was a ring-leader hassling the substitute teacher, the day before. “I believe that she is genuinely sorry,” said her teacher, who is honest and fair, so it must be so, though the sorry-ness has passed by the end of the day.

The temperature is cold, then, and I mowed the lawn this morning, while calculating the hours left in the school year. With graduation on Friday and an assembly the following Friday, there are five regular school days. It’s alarming—I love vacation, but I get no time to myself, if I’m not careful. Today I give my attention to annoying chores that need concentration, now, knowing that concentration will be in short supply in a little more than one week.

After a quick bowl of oatmeal, I checked in on my new jobsite (it’s online), then drove the minivan (aka The Party Barge) to my favorite mechanic’s place, on the other side of downtown. I smiled and left Bill with the keys. I walked with brisk efficiency until I stepped into City Hall, into the line at the Parking Clerk’s office. I knit a few rows on my son’s sock, to keep from tapping my toe impatiently. Demeanor is everything, when begging. Behind the counter is a genial round man with a white beard and half-glasses. He’s a sucker for women, as everyone in town knows, and he forgets people after a few months. This is a good feature in a parking officer—he doesn’t remember the last, say, seven parking tickets he’s forgiven me. I step to the window. It’s my husband’s parking ticket. I don’t overdo it, just explain sympathetically as he writes “void” over the dreaded orange thing. The people behind me in line are happy, knowing there is hope for them, too.

Without thinking, I find myself happily meandering downtown. There are a frightful number of beautiful storefronts empty—the world’s greatest toy store closed, and my favorite clothing store in the world, too. Perhaps a third of the businesses are empty, not a good sign. I step into a coffee shop, full of moms with small children, and chat with the owner for entirely too long. I step into the organic grocery and am careful not to do the same. Then into the vintage thrift shop that specializes in cowboy boots and outrageous clothing. I need to go home, I think. Then the second thought: how long has it been since I was not “in a hurry?” I make a conscious decision to dawdle, to not hurry until I am done. I chat with the UPS man, and stroll leisurely home. I’ve covered a mile and a half in two happy hours.

I cook a late breakfast for my lunchtime, a favorite practice this school year, and I resist the urge to eat my eggs and toast at the keyboard. I have only a week of predictable quiet left. I eat slowly and enjoy each bite as if it matters greatly. It's the best set of eggs I've ever cooked, I decide.

And then I pull out the baskets of mail and paper to be sorted, things to be filed and put back in their homes, while children are still in school. I still have a few hours to concentrate, to make the house ready for the vacation-chaos.

I love my reprieve from “hurry,” this morning. But now it’s time to move some stacks, while there is still quiet and a cool breeze and the smell of mown grass, and I can choose my favorite radio station with no argument. Perhaps the mechanic will call soon and tell me to hurry on back, but not yet, and that’s the important thing.