Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Counting Down

Teaching during the last month of sixth grade feels like dragging fifty heavy, bored, struggling boulders up a very high hill. In the rain. Wearing stillettos, after having eaten only lettuce for a week. Some of the boulders are crying, some of them are throwing spit-pebbles at the other boulders, and some of the boulders' parents are complaining that you're not pulling hard enough, and their precious boulder deserves to get to the top of the hill just because they are a Nice Boulder, and Mommy Said So.

This week, I kind of wish I were a plumber. Or a zoo-keeper. Or a dentist. Actually, I kind of feel like all three.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Of Scientists and Snails...

Okay, fine. Fine. I confess...I do NOT understand PHYSICS. I am an educated woman. I can manage complex issues with challenging people. I can organize huge projects single-handedly. I can whip you up a scrapbook or a pot of chili or a rhyming poem, but I cannot grasp the concept of antimatter. It's matter, or it ISN'T. How can there be an anti?

We're going to see Angels and Demons on Saturday night, and I'm really looking forward to it. I loved The DaVinci Code, book and film, and I love any excuse for a date with my husband. I have been determined to read the book before I see the movie, and I swear...I had to read the first 40 pages like EIGHT TIMES to understand what the hell they were talking about before I finally said FORGET IT. I will just allow for the fact that there's this canister of swirling liquid stuff that could destroy Vatican City. FINE. Now, when does the kissing start? When do we climb into the creepy crypts?

I love the parts with the complex symbology clues from the great masters of poetry and art. I love the descriptions of the streets of Rome and the St. Peter's Basilica and the sassy, scientific heroine. All good. But I do NOT enjoy an entire plot based on a scientific premise that I should get, but don't.

When I was in high school, we were offered Physics as a science my senior year. I only had to take three science classes in high school, so my alternative for Physics was Level Five French. Now, if you took Level Five French, you were promised a field trip in May to Le Bleh Bleh Bleh, some fancy French restaurant in Boston. So, my options were studying Newton's Laws, or eating escargot. I picked the snails. And you know what? We didn't even get to go. I forget why we didn't get to go, but for some reason, she wouldn't take us on the trip. It could have been the fact that Andy and Bruno took every test with their head swiveled behind them to steal answers, or it could be that we all confessed that we didn't particularly enjoy having to read Satre in French (Huis Clos...though I do remember frequently to this day the concept of hell being other people...and I know who mine are!) I loved Le Petit Prince and Le Monstre Dans Le Metro...but sadly, those two titles pretty much sum up my entire remaining French repertoire. (Oh, wait...doesn't repertoire totally count??) The point is, I took an entire year of advanced French and never got to go on the freaking field trip. Chris and Lisa opted for Physics, and Lisa will tell you that Chris, who was brilliant at it, got her through it. (Funnily enough, Chris is now the Science Department Head at the high school that Patrick attended. Yeah. My life's weird.) It somehow makes me feel better because another Smart Woman I Like did not understand physics, either.

I sometimes think that I need to repair my disappointment about the French Restaurant, since it's been exactly twenty years and CLEARLY I'm not over it. I should just go and buy my own damned escargot. I might need to put that on my list of things to accomplish in this self-declared Summer of Vibrancy and Joy.

Anyhoo...the book's great, and I'm more than halfway through. I'll forgive myself the physics and enjoy reading about Raphael and John Milton and Michelangelo, and keep my knowledge of Galileo on the need-to-know basis it's been since high school. I've survived without it pretty well so far.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Escaping Into the Open

Elizabeth Berg, my favorite author, is positively luminous in person. She is sparkly and real and has a smile that radiates best-girl-friend warmth. I met her last night at her reading with tears in my eyes, and she signed her book about writing, called Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True. I love it because she shares her Secret Formula about writing...which is, there IS no secret formula. Just write. Tell the truth. Listen to what's inside you and you can't help but bring it out.

She made me think even more powerfully of the Writer's Life I want to have, which is very like the one she has. She wakes up, makes coffee, goes to her little office and just writes for a few hours until...she doesn't have to anymore. Then she takes walks with her dogs, and maybe has lunch in a diner, or calls her best friend on the phone, all of which, she reasons, can be considered part of her work. She notices everything, and stays completely open to any moment that might spark something - the glint of gold in the old-fashioned plastic diner seats, the way the nametag on the coffee shop waitress hangs defeatedly perpendicular, a snippet of conversation between the old couple wearing matching windbreakers, sitting together on a park bench. That observation IS work, and it all counts. Being with people counts. Being alone to listen to herself think counts.

I love, too, that she came to writing late in life. She was a nurse for a long time, and she feels like the sort of honesty that she had with her patients helped her find the sort of honesty she needs for her characters. I related to that, because as a teacher, I've had literally thousands of spirits come through my life in fourteen years. So many lives in flux, mid-discovery, and I have prided myself on being as true and open with my students as I possibly can. (Within reason, of course.) I have told myself that I'm not "ready" to "be a writer," that I'm too busy with the girls, or there's a show to direct or a projects to grade, but look! I'm doing it. I'm being it, here, to start. This is my beginning.

Actually, though, when I think about it, this is really my middle. The beginning is decades old... notebooks upon notebooks full of writing: dreams, reflections, frustrations, observations...more than twenty-five years worth, and I never let that "count." I'm still learning, still finding my way, and I don't know where it's going, but I feel, finally, like I am on the road to something. I am on the road I have always wanted to be on, with no more excuses. I always hoped that I would just know when the time was right, and I'm feeling that. I always hoped that my life would continue to expand and deepen, and that I would listen when the Universe "showed me a sign" that I should just DO IT, already. And finally, it wasn't about waiting for the right time. It's about making time, however I can.

I confess that I'm writing this right now while my students are in gym class. I already graded their Latin root quizzes, booked the library for Friday book return, wrote a congratulatory note for someone I like who is retiring, returned three parent emails, did some money-stuff from last week's play, talked to one of my students who was ill in the nurse's office, and copied Friday's Greek History test. Then, I wrote this. It took me twenty minutes. And in these twenty minutes, I gave myself the boost of energy that will get me through reading the next chapter of Homecoming yet again, and through taking both classes outside to the huge rock to rehearse their Greek Mythology plays, and through the praise-giving, and the love-for-learning inspiring and the pseudo-mothering that I will have to do with fifty twelve-year-olds from now until 2:45.
But, what if...what if the burst of energy from twenty minutes of writing could lead, instead, to more writing? What if I could sit in my pajamas at my desk, looking out at my woods, and take that energy and put it instead onto a page, into characters, into a story? Then, the energy from that writing could go to...what? Parenting? Wife-ing? Observing and living? I feel ignited when I picture a life with that creative cycle, full of momentum and discovery. In just the past few months, after a lifetime of hoping and visualizing, it feels like it could finally be within reach.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Phenomenal Women

My friend Betsy sent me this quote this morning:

"Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit."

It made me laugh, but it also felt very true to me. I have a friend who had a new baby two days ago. My cousin's wife is in labor right now. I have a friend starting law school, another on her eighth Master's degree (okay, maybe not eighth.) My friends create homes, nurture their men, care for their children, build businesses and careers. They read good books and trashy magazines. They watch their weights but still know how to enjoy a good cheesecake. They focus and toil and strive, and from time to time, we share a martini or take a pole dancing class or put on a little black dress and dance up a storm.

Women are amazing. I never seem to get over it. Phenomenal. Especially the ones that I've been blessed to know and love. I often wonder just how I got so lucky.

Here's one of my favorite poems, which maybe you've read a hundred times, but I think it bears repeating...

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Seven Swans a-Swimming!

I checked on them this morning, and they were all still there, my sweet grey cygnets paddling around with Mom and Dad. I still feel kind of like Snow White.

Tomorrow night I'm going to see my favorite author, Elizabeth Berg, at a bookstore in Wellesley with my Mom. If you've never read her, I suggest starting with Joy School or The Pull of the Moon, my two favorites. She has a way of capturing characters that makes you feel like you know them intimately - what they eat for breakfast, what kind of mailbox they have, how they feel about rainy days, what kind of pajamas they wear. Her stories are always interesting and compelling, but mostly, its who she chooses to people them with that always fascinate me. I'm so excited that my Mom is going with me to see her. We don't always have similar tastes in books (she loves medical thrillers and Dean Koontz-type psychological thrillers), but we have shared some favorites. (And if I tell her that I especially love one, she will always read it - most notably Anne, Joy in the Morning, the Harry Potters, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the last of which always reminded me of what she must have been like as a girl.) And it was my mom, more than anyone or anything else in my life, that inspired and supported my love of reading, and among the many things I appreciate about her, this is very high on the list.

And speaking of my Mom, we are going with Auntie and Katie to NYC for a girls' weekend away at the beginning of June, and I can't wait! We're seeing 9 to 5 and Guys and Dolls, and staying at the Marriot. I hate to admit it, but one of the funniest sights in the world is Mom and Auntie after their second martini, and I love a chance to take my Mom out on the town and help her to relax a little. She loves a good time, and really appreciates and values a "moment," (another thing I can thank her for instilling in me), and a trip to the Big City is chock-full of Mom-Moments.

Now, to find just the right gay bar to take them to...

Sunday, May 17, 2009


A variety of plans fell through for this Sunday, so I've considered it a windfall. My mom always taught me that a windfall was to be spent on pleasure, so I'm enjoying this gray day with my new Elizabeth Berg book, last night's pajamas, an english muffin with apricot jam, and a pot of coffee. I'm settling for fat-free half and half, but other than that, it's pretty perfect. My couch is next to my lilac bush. The raindrops are tapping the scent right off of the flowers and into my open window. Ginger is snuggled at my feet, the girls are upstairs watching Hairspray, and Patrick is marching in a parade. The afternoon with bring a bikeride with the Saads and a few errands and preparations for the week, but for now, I am giving a little grateful shout-out for this tiny pocket of Sunday solitude.

You know, normally I would write this in my journal before I dive back into my book. Not sure if anyone in the wide world would be remotely interested in this little picture, but since I was going to write it anyway, I thought I'd write it here.

I'll knock on some wood as I type this, but, in the words of Anne, "I feel pretty nearly perfectly happy." She held onto a tiny shred of disappointment because of her red hair; my shreds of disappointment are not so cosmetic, but right this minute, I feel that those bruises are far from me, tucked quietly into pages of notebooks that I don't need to open right now. I feel like I'm just holding fast to happy, and I hope it sticks around.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Geek Brigade

Tonight I judged a student-directed festival of plays at Pembroke High School. I was really honored that my friends and former partners, Marcie and Gwynne, invited me, because I love getting the chance to see the work of people I really love and respect. The plays had some positives and negatives, but mostly, I felt so struck by how brave kids can be. An awkward, self-conscious, terrified teenager can get up in front of seniors and his parents and kids from him gym class and play a giraffe in a random artsy-fartsy high school play. That takes some serious courage. It impresses me that so many people are willing to put themselves on the line, and to make themselves foolish in the name of expression and connection.

Anyone see the previews for that new show called "Glee" that they've been advertising during American Idol? I am embarrassingly excited for that show. I feel like they are going to make a show about my exact world. I love geeky arts kids more than anyone in the world. All of my favorite people have that in common to some extent. And I also really love the sci-fi geeks of the world who watch Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and Star Trek. (I don't enjoy the super-crazies, but I enjoy the ones who love it exactly the right amount...and then a liiiiiiitttttle bit more. You know. Those guys.) And to me, the ultimate Coolest People Ever are the ones that have a little bit of both in there.

Being a geek about so many things has brought me infinite joy. Harry Potter...musical theatre...nose-in-a-book diary-keeper...and yeah...I've seen every Star Wars/Star Trek/LOTR movie, too. I am a card-carrying member of the Geek Brigade, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

And, yes...I'll be seeing Half Blood Prince at midnight on Bastille Day...wanna make something out of it? You know the Coolest People Ever will be sitting beside me. That's right. You know who you are.


Do you ever have those days when you feel completely understood and cherished? When you are able to deeply connect to the people who mean the most to you in meaningful ways, and you know that there are people who have your back, and make you laugh, and let you know that you are not alone, and never will be? I had that day today. I have had that week, actually.

If you're reading this, and have made comments here or privately, or signed up as a follower, you're totally a part of that.

I am humbly grateful to have brilliant, sparkling, effusive, supportive friends. I am thankful to be able to be present enough to tell them how much they mean to me when it matters. That kindred-spirit understanding...well, it smells like lilacs to me.

Thank you, friends, and thank you, Universe, for this Springtime inside.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Best First Kiss

We had met nearly a year before. That might not seem significant in the grand scheme of a long and adventure-filled life, but then, the college years…those were dog years – a lifetime in every moment. Seven years in one. SO MUCH happened in the course of a single day, if not to you, then to your best friend, to whom your soul was knit. Or else you learned something entirely new at your 11:15 Woman’s Studies class that you had never known before. The world just kept opening up. Romantic entanglements, unexpected connections, sudden flutterings of feeling came unbidden yet welcome, infusing every day with a particular kind of intensity. That’s where we met; in that little window we spotted each other across the proverbial Crowded Room. To take the theatrical metaphor one step further, I feel like we wandered into this little gazebo, smack in the middle of a rainy, misty autumn afternoon, not the least bit surprised to find each other there, but sort of mystified at the timing. In retrospect I think we knew, even then, that the timing was somehow right, somehow pre-ordained.

(And you know, sometimes I think that these movies and books that so shape me are just coincidence. And then sometimes, like right now, I know that I have found my life’s manuals – my own metaphorical vernacular. The Sound of Music Gazebo. Drinking cognac on Emile DeBeque’s balcony. The Prince Edward Island gazebo when Anne finally meets Gilbert again and begins to know her destiny. That scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan finally sees Tom Hanks in the garden and sees the truth. These things taught me who to be, and what to hold out for.)

So, where was I? Yes. Finding each other. I’m writing this now without benefit of my real-time descriptions of things. My journals are filled with the moment to moment details of this love story, up to the second reports of what he was wearing, what he ate for breakfast, how he caught my eye across the table at Dunkin Donuts. I’m not looking there now. What you’re reading now is revisionist history. It’s all tinted by a perspective made up of two daughters, and family tragedies, and health issues, and years of favorite shows and weekends away and quiet nights on the back porch beside the chiminea.) This tale-telling is not without bias. There will always be bias now.

We met a number of times before we really “met.” These didn’t seem particularly significant then, but looking back, they contributed to the whole picture of the person I began to know that autumn. But, he had a girlfriend at the time. That was pretty simple. And I had a boyfriend at the time. So even though there were some confusing glimmers, I dismissed it. I wrote about it, so it obviously itched something inside, but I dismissed it. Then the boyfriend behaved foolishly. I could have worked it out, but by then, I had become distracted. I hadn’t meant to. I hadn’t planned it, but I lost some focus, and so the “breaking up” path with the boyfriend became more clear. (It would muddy later; this is a multi-layered story. But that gets a chapter - or two -of its own.)

So, I was free and ready. Free for the walks on the athletic fields after rehearsal, with no one noticing we were missing. Free for a planned but unplanned “Who knew YOU would be here?!” breakfasts at the DC. Free for an impromptu skip-classes-and-take-the-bus-to-Northampton day. I had played both sides of the romantic equation – been the pursuer and the pursued. I hadn’t done the waiting thing, though. Not like this. I would have much preferred a number of other romantic scenarios, but this was the one that had found me. This grey-eyed boy with the argyle sweaters and the quiet passions and the wells of sadness and the artistic soul had wandered in and no use protesting. He had arrived, and he was that Someone I had Been Longing to See.

Many months passed, and I know that those stories will be told eventually; I really do think that they’re worth the telling. But this story, this First Kiss story is the one for today.

The whole school year went by, ups and downs and way downs, during which we mostly avoided each other, and then we left for the summer. I fantasized and ruminated, but I went home with thoughts of other boys, and he went home still with a girlfriend (who lived in the next town over) and still with all the cards in his deck. I had made myself very clear, and I intended to non-passsively wait it out. I would keep it simmering on the back burner, but continue to entertain whatever came along. Some wonderful things came along; summer fireflies of feeling, and I loved them. But then he called me out of the blue on a day I was so sad, and I made a decision. I decided then and there to take my own leap of faith, put all my eggs in that one basket, and to close some other doors to make room for this one, the one that was supposed to be opened in exactly its own time.

On the day he called me to ask me on a carefully worded non-date, I knew without his telling me that this journey had begun. He never said that the girlfriend was gone, but I somehow knew. Almost a week later, on another sunny summer’s day, I drove to his hometown for our first date. That, too, is its own story, complete with a picnic under a tree where butterflies flew out from under my sundress. (And I could not make that up if I tried.) The day was full of quiet confessions, revealing histories, tentative testing of the waters. It was the following week that we made a plan for me to come up and get him, and bring him home to Hull to spend the night (in the Pink Room, which was the name for the guest room at our house) and take him to see my summer show, the trainwreck of a musical called Bring Back Birdie at YPST, which was also one of my most cherished theater experiences ever.

After the show, we went to the cast party for a while, then came back to my house and decided to take a midnight walk on Nantasket beach. It was chilly - sweatshirt weather, and everything was so still. He had been very quiet for most of the night. I had attributed it to having to listen to the worst score in the history of musical theatre, but when we got to the beach, he finally started talking. About his concerns about it - us - being too soon. He’d just ended a long and intense relationship. He needed time, space, he needed…He walked away, toward the water, leaving me standing there, knowing that it was done. He wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t the right one, or it wasn’t worth the trouble it would cause. It was finished. When he walked back toward me, he looked straight into my eyes and said, “I love you, Kelly.” And he kissed me. It was a kiss of surrender, and relief, and determination, and so profoundly worth the long, long wait.

It was Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. It was the Captain and Maria. It was Anne and Gilbert, but more…better…it was us. Patrick and me, after what seemed forever, and I had been right. It had been worth it. He was the One, and I had held out for exactly the right cinematic, ocean-breeze filled moment. It was the Best First Kiss.

We’ve had our bumps along the road, Patrick and I, but more than anything, we have lived a passionate love story. I will write this story in all its messy glory someday, and my girls will see a living example of what I hold to be most evident: that the answers to every question already lie within them, and when they find the right road, they will always know. They will know with every fiber of their being, and there will be a soundtrack, and perfect scenery, and the chemistry…yeah, chemistry…of Right. Just…Right.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And not for nothing...

I would just like to say that if you're reading this little blog of mine, I really appreciate it. You might not think it matters, and you might not comment, but I'm still really grateful. You're a part of one small step for Kelly-kind. Thanks a bunch.

First Kisses

Since I direct theatre in a variety of places, I often have to facilitate "stage kisses." In the high school, it's very straightforward, even clinical. "Your head goes this way, your head goes that way, lips only slightly parted, hold for 8 counts or until such-and-such beat of music." I am careful to do it for the first time when the two actors are on their own, so there won't be distractions, or heckling, or anything else. I forgot that ONE TIME, for a super quick kiss during a group scene in Little Women. It seemed the very moment I had given the direction for my freshman "John Brook" to lean over and kiss senior "Meg," a cell phone camera snapped the picture, and senior "Meg's" senior boyfriend was off the soccer field and into my rehearsal room. Nice.

When I direct in the middle school, I am acutely aware that the "stage kiss" is very often the First Kiss Ever for the students involved. I carefully stage it the same way, very clinically, privately, but I am also very careful to say, "If this is your first kiss, you don't have to tell, but I promise you, it totally doesn't count as the real thing." It's still always awkward, and I often wish I could avoid it, but you can't really sing "Till There Was You" without a kiss when the music swells. And you can't really deliver the line in Guys and Dolls where Sky says, "I'll come back tomorrow in case you want to take a crack at the other cheek" without the kiss that precedes it. So off we go, and the kids know in advance that it's just part of the process, and maturity needs to much as possible for a seventh and eighth graders.

My own First Kiss was in 8th grade, and related, as was everything else in my life, to my involvement in the drama club. I think we called it Memorial Middle Musical Theatre or something, but it was run much the same as my own – one big show a year, tons of kids, and the absolute highlight of the whole school year for most of us. I was irreparably shaped by my involvement in theatre in 7th and 8th grade. (I couldn’t do it in 6th grade because rehearsals were the same day as CCD…and I think it’s another thing I’ve held against the Catholic Church ever since.) Anyhow, in 7th grade, I played Annie, and a unique friendship began with the boy who played Daddy Warbucks. We were great pals in 7th grade, and then, in 8th grade, when I was Dorothy and he was the Scarecrow, we “went out,” and seemed to immediately stop talking to each other. My chokingly overprotective father never ever let me go anywhere – which is a whole other story entirely – so there was no opportunity for social interaction with him anywhere but school.

We had been “going out,” such as it was, for maybe two months, which consisted of the occasional phone call, or notes passed, sitting together during rehearsals, even holding hands while the director gave notes, or backstage while we waited to go on. When my friends began to pester me about what we “did,” I was too embarrassed to answer that we had never even kissed. They finally dragged the information out of me with every insipid peer pressure tactic ever employed since the first teenage cavegirl whispered to another over wooly mammoth burgers and diet cokes. “We have never even kissed,” I finally confessed, at the video party for The Wizard of Oz. Gasps and eye-rolling and ohmygodyouguys ensued, and a plot was hatched to force me into kissing him that very night.

We were in the director’s classroom in the middle school one January evening, eating pizza and watching the video when Darlene and Sharon explained to me exactly how my first kiss was going to occur. “You’re going to tell him you need to talk to him privately…OH! Tell him you’re wicked mad at him or something, so he’ll be REALLY SURPRISED.” Affirming echoes by my reliable cohorts followed this pronouncement. “Take him around the corner, next to the library, and don’t talk, just grab him and kiss him.” The girls sighed and cooed, declaring it Perfectly Romantic. I immediately began to try to riddle out the logistics of Surprise Kissing a boy who was literally an entire head taller than me. Stepstool? Stand on my backpack? Pull him down by the collar of his Izod shirt? “You have to do it, Kelly, or everyone will think you’re a freezer.” A freezer. (I swear, these fateful words haunted my entire feminine development. And that’s another good story in its own as well.) Well, I might have been scared…no, terrified, and totally clueless about kissing beyond what I studied from Frisco and Felicia on General Hospital, but I wasn’t a freezer. The gauntlet had been thrown and it was ON.

“Um, Chris…can I talk to you for a second?” Movie was over, kids were just hanging out, waiting for rides. I walked him down the hall by the hand, around the corner into the darkened hallway. I remember sort of crashing into him, standing on my tippiest of tiptoes, and taking a flying leap in the general direction of his lips. Contact was made, awkward and vaguely misplaced. I realized at the last second that I was supposed to do something with my tongue, and so I sort of rooted around until I hit something that felt damp. He was all gangly legs and blundering 8th grade-boy-hands, and I remember that at the last moment, I was pretty sure we were both likely to just trip over and hit the linoleum. I stepped back, feeling a momentary thrill of accomplishment – I had done it! I had stolen my first kiss right off the face of this very tall boy, and though it was utterly fumbling and frantic, the deed was done. At the very moment had I regained my balance and looked into his very astonished freckled face…I suddenly heard giggling. No, not even giggling. Wise-assed, smirk-filled, triumphant, guffawing laughter…my so-called girlfriends had watched the whole entire thing from the other end of the hallway.

Chris and I pseudo-dated on and off all through the rest of middle school and high school, (and definitely got better at the kissing thing) until I fell officially, perfectly, head-over-heels in love with him at the start of my senior year. We then proceeded to have a High School Romance the likes of which I pray for my daughters someday. All of my other Firsts were with him, and they were more romantic and picturesque – complete with back-lighting and a glorious soundtrack – than I could have dreamed up in any teenage diary.

So, that was my first First Kiss. My Best First Kiss, and I would argue the Best First Kiss in the History of Kissing, was with my husband. But that’s a blog for another day.

Swan Update

So, at 5:45 a.m. I went back to the pond, and not only were my six baby swans swimming merrily beside thier mother, a seventh had evidently been found after we left last night. We also watched the father swan harrassing the stuffing out of a goose who was getting too near his corner of the pond. Evidently, the swans are being much more protective of their babies.

Abby asked me if I saw them first thing when she woke up this morning, tousled and bleary-eyed. "I dreamed they were all safe with their Mommy," she said. "And they are, Abby," I told her, "because you helped to rescue them. See? Anyone can make a difference in the world, no matter how big they are."

"A person's a person, no matter how small," quoted my pajama-clad curly girl. And once again, a line from a showtune (from Seussical) sums it up.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Saving Swans

Okay, so...I am reasonably sure people will think I'm making up this story, but I swear on a stack of Anne of Green Gables-es that it's 100% true.

I posted this morning that I had taken a walk to see the baby swans at Town Brook, and that I had planned to take Abby back with me this afternoon to see them. Sure enough, after Amelia was safely settled at her playdate, Abby and I headed over to the pond above Town Brook. We found fluffy yellow goose babies, and tiny brown duck babies, but we couldn't find the swan babies or their mother...only the swan father, pacing up and down the pond (swim-pacing?) in a very agitated way. It's rare to see the father swan without his mate, and I couldn't understand where the rest of them could possibly be hiding. Soon, we saw a fellow from the animal control office walking along the end of the pond, asking if we had seen the mother and babies. He said, "That's what I thought. I believe they got sucked down the hole and into the waterfall. Happened three years ago, and they all died. Not good..." Now, first of all, I would have preferred that he did not say that to my sensitive seven-year-old in our happy little springtime-on-the-farm moment, but since I had just seen eight little swans that very morning, I was concerned as well. Abby and I headed toward the lower brook to see what we could see, and he headed toward his truck. A bit further down the brook, I spotted the mother swan with several of her babies, (though I couldn't tell how many) and so we ran back up to get the Animal Guy.

He followed us down where we counted five babies, and saw some injuries on the back of the mother. There were several other people watching the swan with her babies - a young man, and two grandparents with a baby, and two tourists with a very fancy camera. The Animal Guy decided that he would have to climb in the brook, gather up the babies, get them back to the pond, and then come back to the mother. "Can I help you?" I asked, not expecting him to say, "You hold all the babies and I'll grab the mother." Ooookey-dokey. So he took off his sweatshirt, handed it to me, and told me to wrap all the babies in it. He climbed into the brook and handed me up one of the babies, which I quickly wrapped up. The mother swan moved over to the other side of the brook with her remaining four babies. He waded over, and I crossed the bridge nearby to catch the remaining babies. He scooped them up pretty quickly, the mother swan hissing and honking all the while, and I quickly wrapped them up in my arms. They snuggled right up against my neck, and the moment was absolutely not lost on me that I was HOLDING AN ARMFUL OF BABY SWANS. Who does that???

Now, the mother swan was losing it, and made off to chase me and likely bite my face off, but the officer grabbed her up from behind, and we all - the grandparents, the handsome young man, and the non-English speaking tourists, and my very amazed little daughter - trudged up the brook, across the street and toward the pond where the father swan was waiting. Abby pet the baby swans on the head, and we were joined by more on-lookers (notably the father of one of my former middle school drama students - yeah...small town.) The officer instructed me to place the babies gently beside the pond next to the father, and then he would release the mother. I spilled those sweet, fuzzy grey babies into the grass, and watched them tottle off into the pond. The mother was released and the whole little family sailed away into the springtime afternoon.

We stayed to watch them for a bit longer, and went back to see the geese and ducks, and soon the officer returned with one more grey baby swan, looking a bit worse for the wear. He released it back into the pond, where the whole swan family came back to receive it, check it out, and welcome it back into the fold.

Then, Abby and I purelled like crazy and got ice cream.

Tomorrow morning on my walk, I'll look for them, hoping that the last two might have been found and returned. An ordinary walk turned into a kind of magical springtime moment, and I was again grateful for the chance to have time with my daughter, and the space to let the moments in.

(Oh, and P.S...the Young Man was taking pictures on his cell phone. I asked him if he'd send one to me - knowing that this was kind of an unbelievable story, and hoping for photographic proof. He complimented me and asked if I had a twin sister whose number I could give him instead. Nothing like a compliment to add an extra layer of sparkle to an already sparkly day.)

Dear Sixth Grade Boy

Re-posted by request...

Dear Sixth Grade Boy,

I know it’s tough to be you. I have no doubt that there is a lot going on in your body and brain right now causing you tremendous difficulty on a day to day basis. Though I can’t fully relate to your struggles, I have met enough of you in my travels to be able to offer some friendly words of wisdom and advice. In some cases these will be specific to survival in my classroom, but for others, it’s just plain old good sense.

So, for what’s it’s worth, I offer you the following:

1. Never, ever, ever, EVER wear sweatpants. There are no exceptions to this rule.

2. If we are playing trivia, and I ask you to pick a number between 42 and 100, and you pick 69, be prepared for the long, dark stare you will receive from me. I’m older, and I know more dirty words than you can possibly imagine.

3. If you consistently pick your nose while we are reading The Giver, please don’t be surprised if I email your mother to ask her to buy you your own copy. I don’t like boogers in my books.

4. On the subject of nose-picking: If you continue to do it in public, you will graduate without ever having been kissed by a girl. That’s pretty much a guarantee.

5. If you fart while sitting at table full of girls, just take the heat. No one will believe you when you blame that toxic choker on the 70-pound pony-tailed slip of a girl beside you. Give it up.

6. On the subject of smells: Axe does not cover your body odor from gym. It just makes you smell like my grandfather’s closet. This is not attractive.

7. When telling a parable about the farmer and his two jugs of water, I will try to refrain from calling them “two jugs.” If I forget, could you please attempt to hold it together? And for the record, “throng” means CROWD, not underwear. It’s really not that funny.

8. If I call you up to my desk to discuss your paragraph on the Nile River and feel compelled to put my winter scarf on, it means that I know you are looking down my shirt. I can’t wear turtlenecks every day, and I am an old freaking lady. Get a grip.

9. On the subject of cleavage: the girls in your class just got boobs, like, five minutes ago, and they WILL wear tank tops. If this is too much for you, just sit still and wait it out. Think of dead puppies or your grandmother’s feet or the Gettysburg Address. And if you are still having trouble, DO NOT get up, walk in front of the room, and sign out to go to the boys’ room. Trust me. You will regret it.

10. I know that it’s hard to get from place to place when your hands and feet don’t quite fit you, when you feel compelled to wear the same hooded sweatshirt every day, and you're viewed by your peers based on how fierce you are in dodgeball. You have my sympathy, and my respect for going though all of this. I try to see you as your mothers do – one foot out of the playpen, still hugging your teddy bear in secret, and just trying to figure it all out.

I will do my best to help you, support you, protect you from your classmates and the slings and arrows of outrageous hormones. If you can adhere to the rules of thumb above, it’ll be easier for both of us.

Yours truly,
Your Teacher

"Springtime on the farm..."

I saw baby swans swimming beside thier parents this morning on my 5:40 walk with Andrea through Town Brook. There were also baby geese further up the stream, but not close enough to watch. It reminded me of one of my two favorite lines from Charlotte's Web: "Springtime on the farm is a wonderful thing." My other favorite line is the last line: "It's not often that someone comes along who is a good friend AND a good writer. Charlotte was both." Do you suppose Patrick might let me have that put on my tombstone? It would be rather amusing to watch from the Other Side as people look my tombstone and wonder, "Who the hell's Charlotte??"

At the bottom of Town Brook, on the other side of the road, three men emerged very unexpectedly right in front of us from the reeds carrying what I immediately thought were muskets. Turns out, they were fishing poles. Just goes to show what a lifetime with a Civil War reenactor will turn you into.

Amelia has a playdate with her second-best friend afterschool today, so I'll take Abby to visit the swan babies. And I heard on the radio that a baby lamb was born at the petting zoo at the prison farm, so we might head there as well.

Hm. Muskets and prison. And I thought this would turn out to be a wholesome post about baby animals in springtime.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Flip-Flop Ice Cream Sundae Day

I'm a big believer in creating holidays. I love infusing an ordinary season with something to look forward to. Tramptoberfest, various Spring Flings, and my favorite, Faux Christmas. Two years ago, the girls and I created a new tradition called Flip Flop Ice Cream Sundae Day. It happens when I'm done with my last show (which happened this weekend). We go to the mall, and comparison shop every single store for flip flops. When we've checked them all out, the girls are allowed to go back to their favorite stores and choose two pairs, and then a pair of sturdy every-day sandals for spring and summer. It makes an event of it, rather than just an errand. Their playground at school is very sandy, so they're only allowed to wear flip-flops to school on Friday, when I can be reasonably sure that I will have time to wash their feet before they have to be seen by the outside world again.

After that, we go out for hot-fudge sundaes. If we get ice cream on a given summer day, it's generally just a regular cone from their thrifty-as-possible Mommy, so this is defintely a bonus.

My best friend from high school talks about the fact that her Mom always had very specific summer traditions - two new bathing suits, whether you needed them or not, and that it was always an event when they went shopping for them. That always inspired me, one of many ways in which Lisa's Mom, and their relationship, inspired me.

I know that I am not as devoted and attentive a mother as I would like to be, at least not yet. But I do try. And I do recognize the importance of rituals and traditions you can count on. We'll drive to the mall, and listen to our favorite Road Trip Soundtrack, which includes such ecclectic selections as "Free to Be You and Me," "Mamma Mia," "Me and My Gang" and "Our Song" from Taylor Swift, and I can pretty much guarentee something from Zombie Prom. (Yes, still!) We'll sing along, and I will feel grateful for the sunshine, the open windows, two healthy, singing girls in the back seat, and a chance to focus on nothing but flip-flops on a May afternoon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Helen of Troy

Dear Sixth Grade Boys,

I am so sorry that the video we watched on the history versus myth of the Trojan War had slides of famous paintings of Helen of Troy. I am also sorry that the beautiful Helen has inspired painters and sculptors to paint her topless for the past two thousand years. I am further sorry that it's called the TROJAN war, and that some scientist in his infinite wisdom decided to name condoms after a thing that future middle school teachers would have to say repeatedly. All of these are beyond my control.

I would respectfully request, though, that you HOLD IT TOGETHER. I know it's spring, I know there's precious little to laugh about in sixth grade, but we only have thirty more days to go so let's try to help each other, shall we?

Your Teacher

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Counting Points

I joined Weight Watcher two weeks ago. (Yes, again.) I've had very good luck on it twice, both times losing 25 pounds, and both time for specific events. Once was to audition for a show (didn't get the part, but was glad to see my waist-line anyhow) and the other was for a wedding I was in. This time, it's got a specific end-point in mind: my high school reunion. Now, I realize it's a ridiculous cliche to lose weight for your high school reunion, but for me, I need to have a very specific destination in order to make it work. And it's not that I think I have something to prove, either. I just want to feel that my outside reflects the way I feel about my inside - that I have grown in wisdom, vibrancy and joy. I don't feel very joyful about myself right now, and I think that focusing on a healthy body needs to take priority for me. Like so many other women, I get caught up in doing things for my kids and for work and I stop paying attention to taking care of myself. My journal is my one tool for mental health (which has worked fairly well, though those who know me could certainly argue that my mental health is debatable.) Twenty too many cheeseburgers and ice cream cones and Kraft mac and cheese with the girls has done me in, though.

I want to be healthier for my family, but I need to be healthier for me. It's the whole idea of putting on your own oxygen mask before you tend to others. I know that I alone can cultivate the energy I want to have to bring the best of myself to other people, and I know that the formula is so simple - exercise and eat well. So, I'm trying. And so far, so good. I've done well with my past two weigh-ins, and I feel motivated to keep going.

And vodka with raspberry lemonade Crystal Light - otherwise known as the infamous Trailer Park Punch - is only two points. And soooo worth it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Certain Kind of Magic

Of all of the theater experiences I work to create throughout the year, there is none so exhausting, frustrated and sacred to me as the middle school musical.'s never tops. Talent wise? Well, I sometimes have some very skilled up-and-comers, but frankly, that part is pretty irrelevant for me. It's about connection, experience, and building a little positive energy. It's not "Broadway," but I know that for many of them, they feel like it is. And that's all that matters.

Middle School kids make me work for it. They squirrel away the energy, the enthusiasm, and their knoweldge of their lines and lyrics until the very last second, and then they shine. No matter what shape the show is in on Monday, when they open on Thursday, they shine. I beg, cajole, use every form of humor and charm I can find inside me to get them to SING OUT! PROJECT! ENUNCIATE! But they won't until they have to. Mrs. Pepe, my flittering, smiling, cheerleader of a guardian angel will hold up signs that say QUIET, PLEASE! PLACES! and random snippets of lyrics like HIT THE COUNTERPOINT that only make sense in context. They will mostly ignore us, and I'll leave exhausted every afternoon, but still, come Thursday, they'll shine. I have to trust. And never, ever yell, because I remember from my own fragile seventh-grade self how deflating that is.

I'll have some sleepless nights this week, no doubt. I'll lament the too-short rehearsals in the too-short time period, and I'll come up with a hundred and one ways I could make the show better "if only..." But in the end, it won't matter. In the end, they will sing for their seventh-and-eighth grade peers, (and I challenge you to find something scarier than singing showtunes in front of seventh graders), and their parents, and they will feel spectacular about it all, and they'll cry when it's over, and hug each other, and I will go home and drink Trailer Park Punch on my back porch, smiling at the four months of only one-job-at-a-time that lie ahead of me.