Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Independence day

Growing up in Carlisle doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities for children to practice independence. With its narrow winding roads, distantly spaced houses, and lack of sidewalks outside the town center, the fact that few kids walk to friends’ houses or school isn’t a matter of laziness: it’s logistics. The single standard rite of passage for a middle schooler here is to be allowed to go to Ferns Country Store and the library after school with friends – exactly as it was when I was a middle schooler in Carlisle 30 years ago.

So a mother like me, determined to renounce the notion of helicopter parenting, has to seek out ways to let children stretch. An afternoon meeting near Concord Center earlier this week gave me an idea. “How about if I drop you two off on Main Street?” I suggested to Tim and Holly. “You can get an ice cream cone at Helen’s and then walk to the library. I’ll find you there when my meeting is over.”

Concord Center is full of shoppers, tourists and community members who were sure to intervene should anyone try to snatch the kids off the sidewalk. Moreover, Tim and I were both carrying cell phones: it would be virtually impossible for us to fail to connect, even if the plan didn’t go exactly as anticipated.

As we drove to Concord, I reviewed the itinerary with them. “I’ll drop you off by the monument. We’ll be on the opposite side of the street from Helen’s, but just go to the crosswalk and be sure cars stop before you cross. Then to get to the library, you just walk down Main Street. When you get to the fork, the library will be on your right. You’re not supposed to answer phone calls in the library, so I’ll text-message you to find out exactly where you are. But just in case all else fails and for some reason we can’t reach each other, expect to find me at the library around three.”

I made myself stop. Part of this exercise needs to be seeing if they can figure it all out themselves, I told myself. You already know they can follow instructions. Take this opportunity to find out how capable they are when you’re not hovering.

My appointment ended at 2:50. I sent Tim a text: “On my way to the library.”

I parked outside the library at 2:55. I sent Tim another text: “Where are you?”

No response to either text. For the first time, I felt a twinge of apprehension. Suppose I couldn’t find them?

But how would I not be able to find them? From the library lawn, I could practically see the whole distance down Main Street to where I dropped them off, all two blocks of it. Where could they be other than in the library or somewhere along those two blocks?

Except that I couldn’t find them in the library. Not in the children’s room, not in the reading area, not in the reference room, not amidst the DVD stacks.
I went back outside and tried calling Tim’s number despite my instructions to him not to let his phone ring in the library. It went to voicemail.

Was it actually possible for two almost-teenage children to disappear on the streets of Concord Center? I couldn’t imagine how. With two of them together, even if something awful had happened to one – being hit by a car, a seizure, an attack of amnesia – surely the other could manage to get help.

I dialed Tim again. This time it rang. And he answered.

“Hi Mom. We’re at the bookstore,” he said nonchalantly before I could say a word.

The bookstore is halfway between Helen’s and the library. I arrived in less than a minute, and just as reported, both of my children were sitting together in the children’s section, poring over the newest picture book by Mo Willems. “Mommy, this book is so silly!” Holly exclaimed as soon as she saw me.

“Hi you guys,” I said as calmly as I could. “How’d you end up here?”

They explained: they’d bought ice cream cones, walked to the library, sat out on the library lawn for a while, then on a whim decided to double back to the bookstore. Tim wasn’t sure why he hadn’t heard the text message beeps or my earlier phone call; just too engrossed in books, he guessed.

Partly it was just the relief of finding them, but even after that passed, I realized I didn’t really mind the way it had turned out. Sure, they should have followed my instructions, but it was no big deal. After all, they were in a bookstore in Concord, the heart of literary America. They weren’t so much disobeying instructions as following a historical imperative.

My goal was to give the kids a small sense of independence. Not only had they had a taste of independence; they’d taken the ball and run with it, improvising their own plan along the way.

It’s not exactly Outward Bound. But for two kids from the suburbs who don’t get a lot of opportunities to chart their own course, it’s a start.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What I brought home from my vacation

I did not expect my vacation to be quite so…well, vacation-y.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that once you become a parent, “vacation” has a different meaning. Pre-children, “vacation” meant “go away from home and have fun.” Once you have children, in the early years “vacation” comes to mean “go away from home and do all the same things you do at home only with the additional challenge of being in unfamiliar surroundings.” It’s this reality that inspires a friend of my sister to call a vacation with children a “fake-ation.”

And that reality lasts for a while. Traveling with babies, diapers, baby food (whether jarred or homemade), feedings (whether breast or bottle), nap schedules, exposure to all-new germs… I actually have a friend who commented when her children were still under the age of 5, “Vacation? Why would I want to do that?”

But it changes. Vacations become easy again. Kids grow old enough to adjust to new routines and different surroundings. They even appreciate the novelty of seeing and doing new things.

And even though my family reached that point a while ago – as long as Holly remembers her blankie and Tim packs his stuffed elephant and his stuffed frog, it’s all good – I still wasn’t prepared to have quite so much fun on last week’s vacation as I did.

I had sneaky hopes, of course. I hoped I’d get to do more reading than I’ve managed to fit in most of this summer. Take a break from several ongoing work projects. Avoid the three-meals-a-day menu planning that seems to be required of me this summer. Fit in some long walks or maybe even bike rides.

All of those seemed to me like factors of a good vacation. But what ended up defining my vacation surprised me. I woke each morning with a sense that I had nothing immediate to worry about. The day ahead was free.

Sure, we had tentative plans as we traveled through western New York and Pennsylvania: ideas for recreation, sightseeing, time with friends. But still, no worries and no stress. No deadlines, no meetings, no household tasks, no appointments, no errands. I woke each morning feeling as if the whole day was wide-open for pleasure and adventure, and it was the most vacation-y feeling I’ve ever known while on a vacation.

And once I put my finger on that single factor – the lack of anxiety at the beginning of each day – as the defining characteristic of my vacation mood, I started thinking about ways to bring it home.

I can’t get away from all my work or social obligations or household tasks at home, nor would I want to. I like having work assignments to complete and a household to run. I like being part of a community and having friends. I don’t want to get away from all of it.

But I want to learn to prioritize better and not fill up my schedule so cavalierly with so many items I end up regretting having agreed to do.

I don’t have an exact answer to how to sustain the vacation mood while I’m home, but I think it might have to do with being more discerning, even a little more selfish. More discretionary about how I spend my time.

It was a vacation from my blog, as well, and the relief that came from escaping from that five-days-a-week commitment made me rethink that area of my life as well.

My blog is two years old this week: I wrote the first entry on August 28, 2009, and with almost no exceptions, I’ve posted every Monday through Friday ever since, with usually two weeks off each year, one for the Christmas holidays and one for summer travel.

It’s too much. My blog has become yet another onerous commitment, and being away from it made me realize I needed to back off. I put too much pressure on myself to come up with something mildly interesting to say in a public forum every day.

Cutting back to three entries a week (and, if at all possible, shorter ones) is an easy to change to make. Ultimately, no one but me really cares how often I blog (or whether I blog at all).

The other changes the vacation inspired me to contemplate won’t be as easy to make. Less volunteer work? A more relaxed attitude toward housework? A more discriminating approach to accepting writing assignments? Those possibilities all have their downsides. But the change to my blog is a start, and maybe in using this change as a symbolic way to extend the vacation mood, I’ll learn to work some of the others in as well.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blog vacation!

I am on a blog vacation. I expect to be back on the blog on August 29th!


Here's how yesterday went for me:

I dropped Holly off at day camp – just two miles down the road – at 9:00. I came home, posted my daily blog entry (which I'd written the night before), made coffee, toasted a bagel, and drove Tim to his friend Will's house at 9:45. Then I headed for the supermarket. I'd promised to make cupcakes for Holly's last-day-of-camp luncheon, and the ones I'd made the night before were a disaster, so I had to buy some instead.

I was home by 11:00 and had time to make final revisions to two press releases I'd written the day before. Then at 12:00, back to Holly's day camp for the last-day reading ceremony at which each girl read her favorite piece she'd written that week.

Home in time to check emails; then I dropped Holly off at a friend's house at 2:00 and headed across town to pick Tim up at Will's house. Will's mother invited me to stay; she and two other moms were sitting by the pool snacking and chatting. I would have liked to, but with only one full work day left before we leave for vacation, I had to get home and meet some more deadlines.

Tim hadn't had lunch, so I helped him put a sandwich together and then headed out to pick up a friend's children at their day camp because medical conditions are preventing my friend from driving at the moment. I found the kids, brought them to their house, and headed back home.

Next, I contacted three sources for interviews related to the arts column I need to submit today. The topic of the column is 3D photography, and it turns out that artists who are interested in this kind of work really have a lot to say about it. I took notes as fast as I could, one eye on the clock, because I knew by 5 I had to start loading up the car to go to the transfer station.

When my phone calls were done, I headed out to the garage and started piling bags of trash and bins of recycling into the back of the car. When the car was full, I mounted one of our bikes on the bike rack; I told my sister I would deliver it to my parents' house so she could use it over the weekend. Next, on to the transfer station to unload all the trash and recycling. There I ran into the neighbor who has just started boarding cows at my parents' farm; he wanted to talk cows, so I listened to his theories about udder malfunctions and slaughter schedules while I threw trash bags into the compactor.

I was right on time to pick Holly up at her friend's house at 6:00. I loitered for a few minutes chatting with her friend's mother; then as we were leaving remembered that I was supposed to do a phone interview at 6:30 with an 11-year-old runner who plans to take part in the Chicago half-marathon next month. And Holly and I still had to drop off the bike at my parents' house. They weren't home, so we left the bike in the garage and the mail on the bench and hurried off, but halfway home, I remembered that the bike helmet was still on the seat next to me. Much to Holly's dismay, we doubled back to my parents' house and left the helmet.

The Chicago runner and his mother, both on speakerphone, called just as I was pulling into our garage. I rushed inside to start up my laptop so I could take notes. It's a good story; I'm looking forward to writing it up.

Once that call was over, I indulged in a rush of relief. All my scheduled events for the day were done; moreover, I'd left the house six different times for six different pre-scheduled drop-offs or pick-ups and hadn't forgotten or even been late for a single one. I'd also met a number of small but necessary work goals for the day: finished the press releases, done the interviews for my arts column and the marathon article.

So then I washed the dishes, put away food, and did the dreaded chore of removing mouse droppings from the cabinet under the sink. It seems every three or four days, I find enough down there to warrant a clean-up. I don't understand why, because there's no food under the sink and I never find evidence of mice anywhere else in the kitchen or the rest of the house. It's as if they wiggle their way through the hole near the drainpipe, wander into the cabinet for the sole purpose of pooping, and disappear again. My friend Sheila recently told me about a new mouse repellent she's very happy with; I'll have to put it on my To Do list for today to get to the hardware store where Sheila found it and buy some.

Ah yes, today's To Do list. Because every 24 hours, there's a new one. I managed to get through a lot yesterday, but today there are still more work assignments to complete, more errands to run, more household jobs to do. And yet yesterday felt like a particularly notable accomplishment; I was pleased with the way all the pieces had fit together – the six rides, the transfer station, moving the bike – and rather than feeling beleaguered by all that needed to be done, I was pleased that it had all turned out to be manageable and, more importantly, that I hadn't forgotten anyone anywhere.

When I was younger, before I had children, I honestly believed there were secrets, keys, to good organizational skills, and all I had to do was read the right book or attend the right lecture with the right expert and then I too would understand how to Be Organized. I even occasionally signed up for personal organization classes. Eventually I grew skeptical that there was any one answer, but these days I look around and feel a sense of accomplishment. It's not anything I learned from a book, and it's not anything I could write a book about either. It's not any particular key or slogan or trick or shortcut. It's your life. Meeting your obligations. Keeping track of it all.

And it turns out that experience really is the best possible teacher.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Horseflies, or the lack thereof

Only in the past year or so have I picked up the habit of wearing a hat when I run, and this is mostly due to increased conscientiousness about sun protection.

Yesterday morning, though, I headed out without my hat, noticing only about three minutes into the run that something felt different. “Oh well,” I rationalized when I realized what was missing. “It's still so early” – it was just a little after 7 a.m. – “I'll be running mostly in the shade anyway.”

But then as I looked at my dog just ahead of me at the end of the leash, I remembered the other reason a hat has been useful these past few months: because of the prevalence of horseflies. If I wear a hat, they leave me alone, but I still see them clustered around the poor dog's ears and clinging insistently to her haunches.

At least that's typically the case. But it wasn't yesterday. No horseflies pestered my hatless head, and I saw no horseflies near the dog at all. When I thought about it, I realized I hadn't seen any all week.

And so I knew I had to add horseflies to the long list of negative factors that I notice only when they're present and then forget all about in their absence.

For me, the most obvious example of this occurs during power outages, and coincidentally, we had one just two days ago: the first since the winter, when we had an outage that lasted about six hours. If you ask me while the electricity was on whether I could go an hour or two without it, I'd say of course I could: quite happily, in fact. And yet within minutes of the start of an outage, it seems I think of a dozen things I urgently want to do that require electricity (or running water, which because we have wells rather than a public supply is also unavailable when there's no electricity, or Internet access). When the power went out earlier this week, I shrugged it off at first: the weather was pleasant, and we were using neither heat nor air conditioning; and unlike the more typical power outages that occur midwinter during snowstorms and ice storms, we still had hours left of daylight. I was even mostly done with my writing for the day. So it didn't seem like a big deal.

Except that I soon realized I wanted to wash the lunch dishes, and run some laundry, and use the vacuum cleaner, and look up a few items on line regarding our upcoming vacation, and send my editor an email, and...and all kinds of things I couldn't do without electricity. I never really appreciate all it does for me until it goes out; conversely, when the electricity is on, as it is now, I never stop to think what a pain it is to lose power.

Sore throats are another one. Every time I get a sore throat, I wonder why I haven't been spending more time feeling grateful for the lack of pain in my throat. Car trouble, too: whenever everything is running smoothly in the automotive sphere, I forget what an imposition it is to deal with car problems.

Looking at the dog as we ran yesterday, I reminded myself to take note of the lack of horseflies around her and also around me. It's hard to remember to be grateful for everything bad we don't have at any given time, whether it's horseflies or power outages or far more serious problems. Yesterday, while running, I remembered for a few moments, and felt more grateful than usual.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writing camp

Holly is so lucky. She gets to spend the whole week writing.

And just as my envy was starting to get the best of me this morning as I dropped her off at her writing day camp, I remembered something useful: I went to writing day camp this year also. I too got to spend whole days writing, back in late June when I attended the Aspen Writers' Foundation summer conference.

It may have had a fairly different format from Holly's day camp – she and her fellow campers lounge against pillows in a friend's comfortable basement as they write, whereas we sat on a sun-filled terrace overlooking the Roaring Fork River canyon with the Rocky Mountains in the distance – and different Big Names thrown around to draw in participants – ours had National Book Award winner Colum McCann as keynote speaker, but hers has one of Carlisle's most popular second grade teachers leading the way – but both of us opted to devote a week of our summer to writing this year. And it's a pretty cool thing for the two of us to have in common.

I have to admit, it's given me no end of delight to watch Holly head off to camp every morning this week, peacock blue notebook in hand, her head full of story ideas. Though there are so many interests I'd be happy to see her pursue, from sewing to graphic design to running to playing an instrument, it will surprise no one to hear that nothing strikes at my core quite the way seeing her want to write does.

Like most kids, she's always enjoyed writing, whether doing an in-class assignment or scribbling away in the back of the car as we do errands together, but this week is different. This is the first time she's had the chance to devote hours to her writing, day after day. And she is loving it. She walks around with a gleam in her eye, spouting plot twists and memories she wants to record. She asks me keenly contemplated questions: “Mommy, is it okay if I leave out the detail about Belle getting her nails clipped when I describe her visit to the vet, just to make the story move along faster?” She brims over with excitement when it's time to read me what she worked on each day.

Writing camp is an unusual option for a nine-year-old. Most of her friends are doing soccer camp this week, or drama camp, or music camp. We're lucky that one of Holly's friends wanted to find a writing camp strongly enough that the child's mother took it upon herself to set one up, with a talented grade school teacher willing to lead it.

Holly has just two days left. Thoughts about writing have filled her mind this week; I hope that continues. Maybe someday she and I will go to writing camp – whether the Aspen conference or somewhere else – together. But mostly, of course, I just hope she keeps writing. She definitely has the passion for it, and this week was a wonderful way to focus that energy. She will no doubt develop many various interests as she grows older, and I'm the first to admit there are more lucrative directions toward which her talents could potentially go. But I'm happy to see her writing this week. She loves her camp notebook, her pile of photographic writing cues, the shared excitement of the other girls in the group. I felt just the same way at the conference I attended earlier in the summer. There's no other feeling quite like it, and I'm so pleased it's something we're sharing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rainy August day

Rain poured down for much of the day yesterday and throughout the evening, but I didn't mind a bit. I did feel bad for people who were taking the week as vacation, camping or hiking or biking or at the beach; and I'm sorry for kids at camp this week as well. But for me, the rain felt just fine.

For one thing, it meant one less thing on my To Do list: no worry about watering my outdoor flowering plants and herbs yesterday or today or probably for several days to come. It made for a soggy run, but one thing that being a daily runner has taught me is that the rain, like a lot of sometimes-undesirable entities, often sounds worse than it is. What seems like a downpour thumping against the roof and windows and trees often feels more like a steady sprinkle once I'm out in it, as long as I remember to wear a hat with a visor. And, as I always say, after the first five minutes you're as wet as you're going to get, and then after that it doesn't really matter anymore if it's raining.

Besides, rain almost seemed to complement the activities we had planned for the day. It was Holly's first day of a weeklong daycamp program, but unlike all the kids off at soccer camp or Girl Scout camp, rain was no deterrent to her group's activities: it's a creative writing camp. For most of it they sat in a pillowed reading nook to write, but at one point they sat under a canopy outdoors and wrote about the sounds and smells of the rain falling all around them.

Like Holly, I spent the morning writing – though I was actually reporting on a sculpture symposium taking place in a nearby town this week, not crafting metaphors and similes about the weather as Holly was – and then together she and I took the dog to the vet for a vaccination and then did some errands. Hopping in and out of the car and crossing the parking lot, first at the post office and then at the library and then on to the supermarket, we were windblown and drenched, but neither of us complained. Knowing how much Rick was hoping I'd pick up some Diet Coke for him, I even made a special stop just for that. By that point, it was an extension of the lesson I always apply to running: I was too soaked for it to really matter if I made yet another stop. Home in the late afternoon, I changed clothes and spent the next two hours cooking: my sister and her family, along with my mother, were coming over for dinner, and rather than a burden, it seemed like fun to prepare food and set the table.

I wish we could send some of this rain to Texas and other drought-stricken regions. I know my nattering about not minding getting wet while doing errands is meaningless compared to the suffering that rain – or lack of rain – causes so me people. But I also like to stop and acknowledge the rightness of the weather, when it so perfectly matches my mood as it did yesterday. There's still time for more hot, sunny weather before the summer ends, and more outdoor recreation as well. For now, I'm happy with rain.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's the four-year anniversary of my running streak!

"You're almost at your four-year anniversary!” a friend commented a couple of weeks ago, noting that August 15th would mark the fourth anniversary of when I started my daily running streak. “What are you going to do to celebrate?”

The short answer, of course, is that I'm going to do the same thing every streak runner does to celebrate another year: go running. Because that's how streak running works. We go running (fully dressed, at least in my case: we're streak runners; not streakers) no matter what day it is or what anniversary we may or may not be celebrating. 365 days a year. No days off.

And as I've said before when people ask me about the mindset of streak running, in my case, I don't think a lot about daily running. I don't plan my daily run with much more thought than I plan my morning cup of coffee. There's just no question in my mind that it's going to be there somewhere. Running every day, I like to say, means never having to decide whether or not it's a good day to go running.

So yes, it's four years today; and no, I don't have any particular celebration in mind. When my running streak began, my then 9-year-old son also began a running streak, and at his insistence (to which I was more than happy to comply), we celebrated every single month. At least we planned to. The first month we went out for ice cream sundaes. The second month he asked for an Almond Joy. By the third month, all he wanted to mark the date was a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips. Even by then, he had the same mindset I do: if you've set your heart on running every day, you just don't think of it as a big enough deal to celebrate.

Still, there have been milestones along the way. On our one-year anniversary, my sister and brother-in-law made us customized t-shirts advertising our streaking success. On our two-year anniversary, my son decided he'd had enough and left it to me to continue the streak. On my one thousandth day of consecutive running, my mother left a beautiful flowering houseplant on my kitchen table while I was out for my run.

So here I am at the four-year mark, with no particular celebration planned. Next year, at five years, according to the U.S. Running Streak Association, I'll officially transcend the ranks, from the category labeled “Neophyte” to the section of the list designated “Proficient.” Four years. One thousand, four hundred sixty-five days, as of today, without missing my daily mile-or-more. It's not so much something to be proud of as something to be grateful for. No serious illnesses or injuries. No family emergencies. None of the things that could have made it impossible for me to get out for a run in any given 24-hour period has occurred.

I'm grateful. And I'm psyched to continue the streak. Celebrate? Maybe someday. For now, I just want to go running.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Message from a houseplant

I'm not sure of the variety of plant, but it's something standard and typical, maybe a begonia. I received it from my daughter's third-grade teacher at the end-of-year class gathering; it was a thankyou gift for fulfilling room parenting duties all year.

I'm not generally great with plants, but I hoped I could keep this one producing colorful blossoms at least through an event that I was hosting the following week. I put it on a side table in our kitchen and enjoyed its pretty pink and white blossoms.

I watered it every couple of days, and it hung in there. I had no delusions that it was flourishing, but it didn't seem to become any worse for wear. With me as gardener-in-chief, that was the best that could be hoped for.

But then a few weeks later, I decided to put it out on the deck. I had a large planter out there that didn't have any plants in it, and although I don't know much about growing flowering plants outdoors, I figured it would live at least as long as it would inside.

After I put it outside, I stopped watering it regularly; if more than three or four days go by without rain, I pull out the watering can, but for the most part, now I let the plant live on rainwater, which has been falling every few days these past few weeks.

I thought the plant might die in the acute heat wave of late July, but it didn't. And then last week I noticed it looked better than ever, with lush dark pink and purple blossoms and dense green vines cascading over the side of the planter.

It was very clear to me that the plant was benefiting enormously from being outside rather than in. Even with irregular watering, rainwater seemed to suit it better than tap water. Even with the variety of temperatures we've had lately, from a high of 102 one July afternoon to lows in the 60s or even cooler overnight, the plant looked healthy and robust.

I knew what the message was. I knew what that plant was showing me. The plant had a simple message, and I was definitely open to it: living things flourish when they are allowed to be outside.

This is definitely true of me; it's why I was so happy during the week I spent in Colorado in late June. It's why I know that some afternoons the most self-nourishing thing I can do is hop on my bike for a short ride. It's why so many of my most meaningful friendships revolve around taking long walks together.

Now, every time I look through the door that leads from the kitchen to the deck and see that plant, it's like a reminder. Need rejuvenation? Just go outside. And yesterday afternoon, that's just what I did. We'd just arrived home from two days in Maine, and I was feeling a little out of sorts. I had wanted to stay longer, but we had to get back for Tim's baseball game. At home, things felt messy and disorganized to me, and I felt burdened by unpacking and getting the house back in shape and catching up with work.

And then the plant's message came through. “Go outside. To flourish, go outside.”

I can't, I told myself regretfully. I need to empty the cooler, start some laundry, make dinner, put away my clothes, remind Holly about tidying up her room, help Tim find his water bottle. It sounds great, but I can't go outside.But again, the message: “To flourish, go outside.”

I thought about it again. I can't do something as frivolous as a walk or a bike ride, I told myself, but what about weeding the garden? That's work, not play. But it's also outside. After just five minutes of weeding, I felt myself relaxing. Sure there was a sink full of dishes to wash and a dinner to plan. But it didn't matter. I was getting fresh air and a late-summer breeze. It felt so good to be out kneeling in the dirt, pulling up weeds, looking up to see cloud formations, watching dragonflies drift past me.

After 45 minutes, the garden was fairly well weeded. All the other factors were still in place, of course: the dishes and laundry hadn't taken care of themselves. But that was okay. I'd heeded the message and benefited so much from just 45 minutes outside. The plant's message was absolutely correct: to flouish, go outside. I'm so glad I listened to what it told me. And I'm so glad I could act on the lessons learned.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Only in the past few years have I come to appreciate mid-August as one of the best times of the year.

Prior to this, mid-August connoted little more than heat and humidity to me. When I was a kid, it usually fell right when our vacation out west was all over, information about the new school year had arrived in the mail, and I was ready to move ahead into fall, not spend more time with summer details. And once I became a parent myself, it was often around mid-August that I'd start to feel completely out of resources as far as kiddie summer fun and just want to go lie on a beach somewhere all by myself with a good book.

More recently, though, it's been different. Mid-August, I've come to realize, falls squarely at the interesection of all the glory of summer and all the anticipation of fall. Yes, it can be hot and humid (though it is neither right now), but unlike the heat of July, there's no question that even if the weather is oppressive, it won't last much longer. And just as when anything good is starting to draw to a close you appreciate it more, by mid-August I'm keenly aware of all that I love about summer.

No super-early school-day mornings (I usually get up at 6:30 on weekdays mornings in the summer, which is a full hour and a quarter later than during the school year). Abundant fresh vegetables, even with New England's limited growing season: corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, berries, peaches. Warm water in ponds and lakes; temperatures that are not-quite-frigid in the ocean. Daylight that still lasts well into the evening, but leaves cool, soothing nights behind when it finally fades.

And although in June, standing at the precipice of another summer, I often fret about how the kids will fill their time and wonder if I've made enough plans for them, by mid-August I have nothing left to worry about on that count. I know they've both done an adequate amount of reading and writing and math to keep them ready for a new school year, and I still have a long list of ideas for summer excursions that we haven't done yet.

This year, the last few weeks of summer vacation hold additional pleasures: a creative writing program for Holly, and a little bit of vacation travel for all four of us. So I know it will go by quickly.

But fall is always an exciting time, with new school year energy for the kids and longer days for the kind of work I love, and less pressure to keep track of what everyone is doing and whether they are using their time well.

As the summer was beginning, I wrote in my journal that maybe my goal for this summer should be to spend less time worrying about how everyone in my family spends their time. It's true: I do put a lot of pressure on the kids to fit in outdoor recreation and exercise and reading and writing and time with friends and time alone and bathing and housework every day, and by extension, I put a lot of pressure on myself to ensure that all of those things happen. Maybe the answer is in fact for me to worry less about it.

But by mid-August, I'm done worrying about it, not because it has stopped mattering to me but just because I can see that everything worked out fine. By mid-August, I can simply savor what remains of the summer, as the days dwindle toward fall.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On our way

As the kids and I headed north to Portland, Maine, yesterday evening, I couldn't help thinking of the famous Norman Rockwell diptych: the first illustration showing three generations of an American family looking fresh, crisp and excied as they drive off in the station wagon for a day at the beach; the second illustration showing the same family tired, sticky and sunburned.

But what I kept thinking as we left Massachusetts and passed briefly through New Hampshire before reaching the Maine Turnpike was how I feel like we embody that story only in reverse. We're grubby and disorganized as we leave for our trip, not as we return. At least we were yesterday.

The vicissitudes of Tim's summer baseball schedule are such that the best time for us to get away is midweek, leaving after a Tuesday evening game and getting back in time for his Thursday evening game. Of course, this leaves out Rick, who has to be at work during the week, but since Tim has baseball games both Saturday and Sunday, it's our best chance to get away for two consecutive nights.

Still, it never seems easy. It still takes me about half the day to pack up for a two-night trip, and it's not exactly like I'm stocking campground essentials: in Portland, we stay in my parents' well-stocked condo. So it doesn't matter if we forget milk or shampoo or paper towels. But still, packing my clothes, reminding the kids of what they'll need, collecting materials for any work I plan to do while I'm away, gathering cameras, sandals, bike helmets. Facing the challenge of putting the bike rack on the car and then attaching the bikes. Fitting the cooler in the storage area in back of the car. Making sure that everyone's frivolous-but-necessary electronics are charged (or else that chargers have been packed).

So once we finally hit the road, we're already tired, not to mention the fact that Tim has just finished a tough six-inning baseball game. We stop at MacDonald's, a very rare indulgence in my family but worth it when it's seven o'clock and I want to get to Maine more than I want to maintain our usual nutritional standards.

Fortunately, I remembered to pack a whole wheat bagel with Cheddar and cherry tomatoes for myself. As we drive, the kids get French fry grease all over themselves and the car, and I'm not doing much better: two bites into my bagel, a cherry tomato squirts all over my shirt.

I make the slightest hand motion toward my phone, and both kids perk up like terriers. "I get to call Daddy!" "No, it's my turn!" I listen to them argue about it for thirty seconds or so and then ask, "What does either of you have to say to Daddy?" Nothing, as it turns out. They both saw him less than an hour ago. What matters is being the one deemed important enough to dial his number. (Of course, I too saw him less than an hour ago, but I already have several things to say to him: I haven't fed the dog yet, and could you wrap those loaves of banana bread that I left cooling on the counter in Saran wrap, and what do you think we should do about the problem with the washing machine, and sorry that you have to be at work tomorrow while we're out boating.)

Finally we arrive, sticky and a little greasy with a couple of arguments already under our belts, not fresh and crisp like Rockwell's beach-goers. But maybe we'll complete the reversal and return home that way, rather than tired and sunburned. If the journey is more important than the destination, we've completed this one safely and successfully, and I'm very happy to smell the ocean.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Computer karma

There was a time long ago when, in identical circumstances, I probably never would have learned that a distant acquaintance from high school who is also a writer but lives in New York caused irreversible computer damage yesterday morning by spilling coffee -- with milk -- on her keyboard.

But that long-ago time was before Facebook. And I didn't spend long on Facebook yesterday morning, honest. I spent three hours drafting a story about a food writer who just published a book about lobsters. A quick glimpse at Facebook before breaking for lunch was supposed to be my reward for my diligence.

I read the post with, frankly, little interest. "A little coffee on the keyboard? How bad can that be?" I shrugged to myself. "If keyboards couldn't withstand the occasional coffee spill, you wouldn't see them on every single table in Starbucks, right? I'm sure it will fix itself in no time."

Well, anyone who agrees with my that the goddess Fate has a sharp sense of irony can guess what happened next. I reached over to close my laptop and knocked over my water bottle. Right onto my keyboard.

But I grabbed it and righted it in no time. Two, maybe three tablespoons of water at the most had actually landed on the computer. "No problem," I reassured myself. "It's just lucky I drink nice clean water rather than milky sugary coffee, and it's lucky I have reasonably fast reflexes."

Wrong, of course. When I returned to my desk after lunch, my keyboard was utterly unresponsive. No vowels. No consonants. No space bar. No hard return. No numbers or symbols or shortcut keys. Nothing.

I put out the cry for help every way I knew: on Facebook, on Twitter, via email (to a friend who is an IT expert), by phone (to my husband, who I already knew probably wouldn't have time to help me with a computer fix until approximately halfway through Labor Day weekend).

Responses and advice poured in. I followed it all. I wiped the computer thoroughly with a chamois cloth. Then I borrowed a hair dryer from my mother-in-law and ran the hair dryer over the keyboard for about twenty minutes. Then I put the computer next to a pedestal fan and ran cool air over it for another ten minutes. Then I submerged my computer in a pan full of uncooked rice. (Apparently this is a great trick to deploy if your cell phone gets submerged in water. The dried rice absorbs the moisture. I've repeated the adjective "dried" preceding "rice" here in hopes of lowering the inevitable odds that someone will think I said to do this with cooked rice.)

Then I did another hair dryer treatment. After that, the whole body of the computer seemed overheated to me, so I wrapped it in a cool damp towel. It really would have made more sense to just send my laptop to a day spa and ask for "The Works," with hot stone massage and apricot facial most definitely included.

Now I'm letting my computer rest. We'll reevaluate later today. I have a different computer to work on in the meantime, and if I may indulge in a brief moment of self-righteousness, there is nothing on my regular laptop that I had neglected to back up -- yes, I learned that lesson the hard way and won't make that mistake again -- so I'm not worried about any particular files. I just want to be able to use the computer itself again sometime soon.

So in the end, lots of lessons learned. Don't snicker at your friends -- or your distant acquaintances -- when bad luck befalls them even in the form of a knocked-over coffee cup: you'll probably be next. Keep files backed up. Have plenty of uncooked (did I mention it has to be uncooked?) rice on hand. If you care about your computer, be prepared to indulge it with a full spa treatment at any time.

And, of course, no more full water bottles near the keyboard. The goddess of Fate might just catch me being dismissive of other people's computer problems once again, and this time the repair could be a lot more complicated than A Day at the Spa.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Warm summer rain

There’s always something new for me to appreciate about running. I’ve been running regularly for the past 25 years and daily for the past four years, but days like yesterday still come along when I find myself out on a run thinking, “I’ve never noticed how much I like _________ .”

In yesterday’s case, filling in the blank was “…running in a light steady rain on a warm, humid summer day.” In fact, I can’t remember a single previous time when I’ve found it really pleasing to run in the rain. Sometimes I do so grudgingly, sometimes acceptingly, sometimes miserably – I often quote Runner’s World executive editor Amby Burfoot, who in one of his books says “There is no bad weather for running. Okay, maybe 34 degrees and raining is bad weather for running.” And it seems that throughout the winter, I frequently find myself running in 34 degrees and rain. Sometimes, too, I run in the rain fearfully, as I did two weeks ago, with thunderstorms rolling in from a distance.

But until yesterday, I had no memories of not just abiding the rain but really loving the rain. Yesterday, the rain felt nourishing, cooling, soothing. The air was so warm and humid; the rain, only slightly cooler, seemed to balance out the heat. I ran four miles, a straight out-and-back down to the end of the main street off of which we live and back. When my face started to feel hot and sweaty, I ran my hands against the leaves that poked their way into the roadway and cooled off in the water; normally I try to avoid wet leaves. Normally I try to avoid puddles, too, but yesterday there was a puddle extending the width of our driveway that I simply couldn’t avoid, so with my feet wet from the outset, there was no reason to try to avoid further puddles, and I enjoyed the mindlessness of just running straight through the puddles rather than trying to navigate around them.

I have to admit that my newfound enjoyment of the rain wasn’t solely a change of mindset, not just a Zen-like decision to welcome the rain rather than resist it. Part of the change was pragmatic: until last summer, when the importance of sun protection finally sunk in, I was never in the habit of running with a hat on. Having the rainwater run off my visor rather than into my eyes made it a lot easier not to mind the steady stream of droplets.

But mostly, it was just that rain felt right, yesterday. The weather has been hot lately, and I’ve been running early in the day, when there are a lot of insects out. In the rain, the insects were gone. I felt as if I were blissfully undisturbed: just me, running through the gentlest of showers, cooling off, damp with fresh clean water rather than damp with sticky sweat.

By the end of my four miles, my clothes were drenched, but I still wasn’t cold. It was a perfect day to be running in the rain, and I felt as if I’d discovered a whole new pleasure in running. It might be a long time before the conditions – air temperature, intensity of rainfall, even my own mindset – conflate into the perfect rainy-day run again. But for yesterday, it was exactly right, and I felt as if I’d made a discovery. About myself, about the weather, about running.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Perfect summer day

The past few days for me have been full of vicariously savoring other people’s vacation adventures. My friend Jane told me about camping for two nights on an island in Lake Champlain (the ferry boat captain insisted she refer to it as an “undisclosed location” to stave off the crowds). My sister emailed to say how happy she was to be back in Colorado. A neighbor posted on Facebook about a wonderful first day on Nantucket.

And yet we had a pretty perfect day yesterday right here at home, which reminds me that a perfect summer day can happen a lot of different places. If you have an opportunity to relax, a break from the normal schedule, and like-minded company – no matter whether any of those factors exists for a week or a couple of days or even just an hour or two -- you have just about all the ingredients you need.

We didn’t go anywhere yesterday, but after I had a productive morning of work on our porch, Tim and I played badminton in the yard while Holly rode her bike up and down the driveway. Tim and I both love to play badminton; it’s one of the few things that the two of us have essentially equal amounts of interest in. So we played for a good long time. Holly rode her bike to the edge of the woods behind the garage and for the first time discovered that there are wild blackberry bushes growing back there. Finders keepers: she picked and ate the first ripe blackberry of the season; we could see that there are more soon to come.

Later in the afternoon, I loaded up the car and brought the trash and recycling to the Transfer Station. Even that had a Perfect Summer Day feel to it: with everyone else in town off vacationing, I had the whole circuit to myself, and it seemed like such an easier job than it does when the cars are parked six deep and the bins are overflowing.

And after Tim and Rick left for Tim’s evening baseball game, Holly and I headed over to my parents’ house for one last visit with my sister and my niece before they return home to Pennsylvania. We sat with my parents on lawn chairs out by the pond and admired the beautiful evening we were in the midst of: bullfrogs croaked, dragonflies skimmed across the water. Sorry as I always am to see my sister and her family leave, they’ll be back later this month, and then we’ll meet up with them in Pennsylvania not long after that.

So there are perfect summer days in the mountains and on the islands and at the beach, and there are perfect summer days to be found right at home as well. I’m lucky to have already gone away once this summer, to Colorado in late June by myself, and I look forward to a real family vacation in another few weeks, but for now, badminton and biking and blackberries feels just about as satisfying as any getaway.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Holly's birthday: A recap

On the day Holly was born, I held her for most of the day. Once in a while I laid her down while she was asleep, but mostly she snuggled into the crook of my arm. She dozed; I studied her face and wondered about her personality. She tried to take in some nourishment, in that uncertain, searching way that babies do in their first few days of life. Visitors came to see her: first her older brother, once he was awake and ready for an excursion to the hospital; later both sets of grandparents.

Yesterday, her ninth birthday, started out in sort of a parallel way. Rick and I greeted her as she made her way into our room as we were getting up in the morning; later, we woke Tim up so that he could join us in the breakfast festivities. He said a sleepy, seemingly sincere if not overly excited “Happy birthday” to her.

And like on her original birth day, she saw one set of grandparents, though she won’t see the other until the weekend. But unlike that day nine years ago when they peered at her in her hospital bassinet and kissed her dark damp hair while she slept, today she went out for lunch and to a movie with Grandma (The Smurfs, which she declared “Awesome” and “The best movie I’ve ever seen.” Hard to please, she’s not.).

Last night, at Holly’s request, we went to a minor league baseball game. I can’t say I observed Holly doing a single thing related to the concept of baseball: she didn’t cheer for any of the players or any of the action; she didn’t ask about the score; she didn’t comment on any great plays. Based on the way she spent the time, we could have just as easily been at a busy urban train station: eating a variety of not-very-healthful foods, watching the crowd, pointing out interesting or amusing aspects to the passing scene.

In so many ways, a nine-year-old is so different from a newborn. But on the way home from the baseball game, Holly became overtired and whimpery. When I drove into the garage and parked the car, she climbed out, and then said to me, “Will you hold my hand?”

Hand in hand, we walked into the house and up to her room so that she could put on pajamas and brush her teeth. All she wanted was to sleep. Yes, I kept her out a little too late; she was worn out. But it was worth it to me for the simple pleasure of feeling her take my hand to make our way into the house at the end of the night. That moment, more than any other part of the day, connected me to the day of her birth, nine years ago.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Holly turns nine

Holly turns nine years old today, which makes it what I call a “mom-birthday” for me. Even nearly thirteen years after the birth of my first child, I still bask in a feeling of triumph as well as gratitude each year on my children’s birthdays.

I congratulate my friends when it’s their “mom-birthdays” as well, even though they often don’t see it as the same kind of personal holiday I do. True, the focus should be (and always is) on the child celebrating the birthday, but I still think a kid’s birthday is a big deal for the mom as well. “Look, I transported her safely through another year!” I always want to proclaim on my child’s birthday.

It’s more than an accomplishment, of course. It’s a blessing. Holly has had another wonderfully healthy and happy and safe year, and beyond being triumphant, I should be tremendously grateful. And I am. Reaching nine years old free of serious illness, injury, or other catastrophe is something many children are not fortunate enough to experience. I feel gratitude every day that mine have been so fortunate.

But I also marvel at the fact that we’ve both reached another yearly marker. When my children were infants, I was somewhat surprised by every day we successfully survived together. Now it’s a lot easier, of course. They don’t need so much from me anymore. Not compared to when they were infants, anyway. And it’s a lot more fun now than it was back then. A successful feeding and a fifteen-minute nap was the measure of a good day during Holly’s first few months. Now she can do so much that I consider wonderful: ride a bike, write a story, compose a song, comfort a friend, recount an anecdote, tease her father.

She’s nine, and she’s very pleased with that fact. I am too. I’m grateful and happy for the past nine years we’ve spent together, and I look forward to the one just beginning. I’m curious what milestones it will disclose. I’m appreciative of those that unfolded over the past twelve months. I’m thankful to be here with Holly today, wishing her a happy birthday. And savoring my own mom-birthday as well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to do a running streak: Simplest advice

Through the vagaries of social media in general and Twitter in particular, I stumbled across a group of cyber-friends a week or two ago who were all planning to start a running streak on August 1st. “Welcome to the ranks,” I told them, and enjoyed reading their posts as they built up to the big Running Streak Day One.

My own running streak, following the guidelines stipulated by the U.S. Running Streak Association (USRSA), began on August 15th of 2007. So later this month, I’ll cross the four-year threshold, and since I’m at day 1452 right now, by the end of September I’ll reach Day 1500, another appealing milestone.

Whether this puts me in any position to give advice to the cadre who started their streak yesterday is up for debate. According to the categorization system of the U.S. Running Streak Association, I’m still a neophyte – and will be until I reach the five-year mark twelve months from now. After 1452 days, I can’t exactly say I feel like a neophyte, but of course, to the longest-term streakers on the registry, who have over forty years of daily running under their belts (or under their insoles), calling me a neophyte may even be putting it kindly.

Still, most people who know me and know of my streak do not know other streak runners who are up in the decades-long rather than years-long echelons, so it is to me that they turn with questions. Or one question, really: How do you do it? Maybe it makes sense for me to give advice and maybe not, but here are a few of my standard answers.

• Although most streak runners cover more than a mile a day – many are long-distance or even marathon runners, and my standard is 2 miles per weekday run and 4-6 miles each weekend day – a mere mile is all it takes to qualify for a streak according to the USRSA. And running one mile doesn’t take long. Even a slow runner like me can cover a mile in ten minutes. So even though I’ve never been a smoker, I sometimes liken it to a cigarette break – or, in more contemporary terms, the time some people take out of other activities to check their email and update their Facebook page. Ten minutes. Go out, come back, you’re done. Not that difficult to fit in at all.

• No matter how busy your day is, everyone has a first-thing-in-the-morning. No one stays up all through the night, every night. So no matter how busy the day ahead may be, you can always set your alarm ten or twenty or forty-five minutes earlier to fit in a run. I usually, though not always, run first thing in the morning – whether “first thing” means 7:30 on a Saturday, 6:00 on a weekday during the school year, or 4:45 on the occasional travel day when I’m heading off to the airport for a morning flight. Sometimes I run at the end of the day, but only when I’m unable to force myself out of bed early enough to go in the morning.

• As Yogi Berra purportedly said, it’s not over ‘til it’s over. The day, that is. I try to avoid delaying my run into the late evening, but when it happens, it happens. In my memoir about streak running, I described the latest run I did that year or in fact any time since: it was at 9:45 at night. I wasn’t happy about it, but I still fit it in. My streak-running mentor, who logged a 32-year streak before a heart attack sidelined him for six weeks (after which he began another streak), once began his daily run at 11:50 p.m. It was just a mile that day, and he fit it in before midnight.

• Shed the habit that non-daily runners have of deciding whether or not it’s a good day for a run. Once you’ve resolved that you’re going to do a streak, that question becomes irrelevant, and I found it quite liberating to stop thinking that way. You’ll actually save time as well as mental effort in your day once you no longer have to think about whether you’re going to fit in a run. You are. Case closed. No more time wasted vacillating over that question.

• Another motto I tell myself is this one: You can always run slower. (No one has ever accused me of having a talent for catchy mottos.) The USRSA stipulates how long a distance you have to run to qualify as a streaker, but not how fast you have to run it. As long as there is some fraction of a millisecond between every footstrike when both feet are off the ground, you’re running. Having a tough day of it, or don’t even feel like running at all? Run slowly. You’ll still finish that mile in less than fifteen minutes.

• Any kind of weather is bearable for a mile. Again, I don’t mean to imply that most streakers run only a mile a day. Most run longer, although one exception is Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, whom I actually profiled in the first chapter of my book. He runs one mile and claims he has never once gone a single step farther. In any case, though most of us do more than a mile a day, no matter how cold or hot or icy or humid or rainy or snowy it is, there’s no kind of weather that’s too miserable for you to be out in it for ten minutes. Wear ten layers, or wear almost nothing at all. Do whatever the weather calls for. You’ll be back indoors before you know it.

• In my experience, it’s critical that you have a running route that is reliably safe. By safe, I mean both from traffic and from other dangers. My belief is that you can’t maintain a streak if running in the dark – whether that’s pre-dawn or post-dusk – is not an option. I’m lucky to live at the end of a half-mile-long cul-de-sac on which the only traffic is drivers going to and from the handful of houses on the road. On the days that it is most inconvenient to run, whether due to darkness or weather, I can simply run down our road and back and be done. Not everyone has this luxury, but remember, covering a mile or more doesn’t mean you have to run in a straight line. You can do laps around a high school track – or even a supermarket parking lot -- if you need to.

That’s probably enough advice from someone who has already admitted she may not be in any position to give advice. I don’t even think about the running streak anymore, except as an objective number that I post on Twitter and in my running log daily. But I don’t think about “Oh yeah, I need to do that daily run once again. Or not.”

Running is like brushing my teeth at this point: a new day has dawned, so it must be time to go for a run. That attitude has brought me to the brink of the four-year mark. I’m still a neophyte, but I hope eventually to be well into a decades-long streak.

Maybe if that happens, I’ll have still more insights. But I don’t think so. I think it’s really pretty simple. If you want to do a streak, go out today and run. And do it again tomorrow.

For a look at my streak-running memoir, just click on the image of the book at the top of this page. You can also find the e-book through

Monday, August 1, 2011

The "oblivion principle" - perks of a privileged childhood

It’s such an obvious reality that I don’t know how it can still surprise me, but I'm sometimes amazed by how hard I can work and how much I can accomplish without my family having any inkling of what I’ve done.

And it’s easy to become resentful of that. I think often of the recurrent image from the “Rose Is Rose” comic strip by Pat Brady, in which every once in a while Rose descends into her Dungeon of Resentment. How is it that I spent all morning cleaning all four bathrooms and no one noticed? Do they have any idea of how much pollen would be piled on the windowsills right now if I hadn’t dusted this week? Where do they suppose the clean and folded laundry they regularly find in their bureau drawers comes from, anyway? Yesterday we were out of milk and today we have plenty of milk: did anyone notice that I spent two hours at the supermarket and then carried in five bags of groceries myself?

I know there are various ways to address this issue, and I know there are plenty of parents who think I should be more proactive as far as expecting contributions of help from my children. But they do tasks that I consider age-appropriate – they’re almost always responsible for unloading the dishwasher after it runs; they bring their clothes hampers to the laundry room when I ask them to; they clear the table after dinner; they would have helped carry in the grocery bags if they’d been home at the time – and it’s not really a matter of my wanting less work on my hands. It’s just the frustration of how invisible it all is to them, how they never seem to actually see me do any of this or notice what I’ve done.

But when I start to descend into the Dungeon of Resentment, I have to remind myself that this life I’m living in my own choice. I’ve chosen to raise a family, to live in a house, to do the kind of work that generates the kind of salary for which buying groceries is not a problem but having abundant paid household help would be.

What helps more than that, though, is to reiterate to myself my belief that being oblivious to the work your mother does is actually one of the privileges of a comfortable childhood: a privilege that will ideally be passed down from generation to generation. Like my children are with me, I was equally oblivious to how hard my mother worked to keep our household up and running. But every now and then I’ll look back on something from my childhood and be curious enough to ask her. Earlier this summer I found myself thinking about the evening cookouts we used to have once or twice a week at our family cabin in the mountains during our month-long Colorado vacations. The cabin was about thirty minutes away from where we stayed in town: we’d often drive there for dinner, sometimes just us five but more frequently with guests, spend a few hours, and return to our place in town for the night. I remembered happy evenings around the campfire with grilled hamburgers and toasted marshmallows and songs and jokes, but I didn’t remember anything about the sleepy return to town at bedtime. “How did you get all the dishes washed after we got back?” I asked my mother last month. “Didn’t it take hours to unload all the food and cookout gear?”

Of course it did, but I didn’t think about that at the time; it was one of the privileges of my happy childhood. My children may be oblivious to the hours I spent yesterday morning cleaning the house or the 45 minutes it took me to prepare yesterday’s picnic which we took to the pond for an early dinner and swim, and that’s a gift I’m giving them. If they someday choose – and are fortunate enough – to have an adulthood similar to mine, with families of their own and lots of opportunities to have fun, they’ll do this same thing themselves.

Yes, it’s good for them to help out around the house and do age-appropriate chores. But if they’re blind to just how much effort it sometimes takes to make vacations and holidays memorable, to keep the house clean and organized, to be generous hosts to friends and relatives, and to keep everyone safe and happy so much of the time? I may just have to consider that a privilege I’m happy to be able to give them.