Vacation

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Every year we take the kids to Florida for spring break. We stay with my parents and lounge on the beach, swim at the pool, hit tennis balls and bike to the nearby café. The kids love it, I love it, Lee loves it (even though he can only come for a few days) and of course my parents love it, too.

I started looking at dates and airfares in early March while the snow was still falling and we were packing up every weekend for another ski race. A couple of times I came close to pressing the “reserve tickets” button but for some reason I didn’t. Something was holding me back. My dad kept asking if I’d booked the tickets, and by the end of March, I still hadn’t. As the price of oil went up, so did those tickets, and I still hadn’t made any reservations.

And then I decided that this was the year we just wouldn’t go.

Everyone was disappointed. I tried to explain how the winter had been so long and exhausting, seeming as if it would never end. We even had an inch of snow on the ground the day before Easter! But warm southern weather is exactly what you need everyone argued. And I agreed, but try as I might, I couldn’t muster up the energy to even think about the trip.

So we stayed home. A “staycation,” my neighbor called it.

Staying home is really a whole new concept for us. We usually don’t have time to unpack our bags from one weekend driving here, there and everywhere before we start packing for another.  But as vacation week arrived, and we had no suitcases to pack, no time schedules to adhere to, I felt my tense shoulders start to relax.

As the days have passed, we’ve turned off alarm clocks and become reacquainted with our pillows.  The kids have rediscovered their love of Lego building, modeling clay and drawing comics.  We’ve replaced the wordsneed tohave to or must with the words feel likewant to or maybe. We’ve eaten lots of thick slices of French toast with strawberries and syrup and the cold sore on Tucker’s lip has finally cleared up.  We’ve played wiffle ball and taken lots of slow walks in the woods and watched the first Harry Potter movie during a big, loud thunderstorm.

I planned to take the kids to the coast or into Boston to the science museum, but even traveling just over an hour from home somehow seems too far.

Our big outing yesterday was to the local diner in the next town over. After the kids devoured their chocolate chip pancakes, we wandered around town and discovered a park tucked behind the main street. We followed the path that wanders along the river and dropped in leaves to watch them float down stream. We even caught a glimpse of a beaver running along the opposite shore.

We walked to the town green, and I snapped pictures of the kids sitting on benches next to the bronzed statues of children that we’d never even noticed before. I wondered if the statues were new, but realized we usually cross the green to the chant of Let’s goCome on or Hurry as we run in to pick up take out or cross some other errand of our list.

As the kids posed for the photos, Andie said, “Mom, we’re like those people who travel somewhere and take lots of pictures.”

“Tourists?” I asked.

“Yeah, tourists,” she said.

And I realized she was right. We are tourists, finally discovering this whole new world that’s been hidden right in front of us, waiting for us to slow down enough to see it.

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Marathon Mentality

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As I listened to the news reports about the Boston Marathon earlier this week, I thought back on all the years when we lived outside of Boston and took the kids to the race. It began in the town next to ours and our friend’s office building was right on the main street, providing a wonderful place to watch the start and store our sweatshirts, water bottles and sunscreen.

Thousands of runners, who’d been there since the pre-dawn hours occupied patches of grass on beach towels spread beneath trees. Their nervous tension mingled in the air with the smell of fried dough and sausages and onions wafting from the food carts lining the town green. The atmosphere left me jittery and awestruck, but the kids sucked it up like juice through a crazy-straw. I had to suppress my desire to approach runners and launch an investigation into why they would possibly put themselves through the rigors of running a marathon. The longest distance I’d ever run was 5 miles, and I swore I’d never do that again.

One year in particular stands out in my memory. The kids were young, maybe around three and five. A runner from the Children’s Hospital Team ran in Andie’s honor. We met Vicky at the start and she had Andie’s name written on her arm in the same black oily crayon football players draw under their eyes.  When I asked Vicky why she ran, she said that running brought her great joy and that children facing adversity inspired her.
marathonAfter we snapped a bunch of photos of Vicky hugging Tucker and Andie, we took the kids over to the official start.  They stood on the bright blue painted line and posed for a few quick pictures with their friends Matthew and Jack.  Soon runners began lining up between the metal cattle fencing lining the start of the course.

Just as the race was set to begin, the kids ran to the fence and stood on the lower metal bar so they could reach over the top rail and high-five passing runners.  As the hoards slowly began moving forward, many runners moved from the left side of the course over to the right just to meet the kid’s hands. I could see Lee working just as hard I was to hold back his tears.

The kid’s bodies hung uncomfortably over the rail by their armpits and as the bib numbers reached into the thousands, Andie’s arms started to look noodley and she soon jumped down from her post. Matthew and Jack lasted a few thousand runners longer, but eventually they’d had enough and jumped down, too.

“If I know Tuck,” said Matthew and Jack’s mom, Karen,  “he’s not coming off that fence anytime soon.”

And she was right.

We watched as the bib numbers climbed into the eight thousands, nine thousands.  The payment began to heat up, but Tucker’s little body continued to hang over that metal bar.  And there he stayed until every single runner, well over twenty thousand had moved past him and through the start of the race.

When he finally turned around and hopped of the fence, I realized I didn’t need to interview any of the runners to gain insight into their marathon mentality. My little boy had shown me that focus, purpose, perseverance and a willingness to see things through to the end seemed to be the necessary requirements.

The Name Game

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As a young, newly married couple, Lee and I spent many a weekend driving to visit family and friends. As soon as the tires hit smooth highway, I’d want to play my favorite road trip game Let’s Think of Baby Names. We were nowhere near the point of starting a family, and Lee was not into naming something, someone that didn’t even remotely exist. But I rattled off names anyway ignoring the way his grip on the steering wheel tightened until his knuckles turned a bluish gray.

Years later, when my growing middle proved that a baby was no longer a hypothetical, Lee surrendered and played Name That Baby. We settled on a boy’s name quickly – a first and middle name after his brother and mine. The girl’s name didn’t come as easily but that gave me the chance to write long lists of names that I no longer remember, yet have saved in my pregnancy diary buried somewhere on my overflowing bookshelf. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I’d flip-flopped though a dozen different girl’s names. Lee continued to smile and rub my back. Then just days before my due date, I picked one (which I can’t even remember now) and Lee happily agreed. We were ready. Until… I decided the boy’s name no longer felt right.

What?”  Lee asked through his end of the phone line. “You want to change the name now?”  His voice came through in a panicked work whisper. I looked at the books spread across the kitchen table –100,000 and 1 Names for your Baby, The Baby Name Bible and The Best Baby Name Book Ever and nodded into the phone.

After going through all the books and not finding a single name, I called my friend Shandy. She’s the one who found my wedding dress when she stormed into the back room where customers weren’t allowed.  It took her no more than 45 seconds to say the name I hadn’t seen in any of the books – Tucker.  Just like the wedding dress, I knew instantly.  When Lee answered the phone I whispered the name.  “That’s the name,” he said without missing a beat.
nameAndie’s name is a whole other story entirely. You’ll have to read about that one when my book comes out.

Which brings me to why I’ve been thinking about the subject of names in the first place. As I begin this new phase of my book’s journey, sending out query letters to agents, hoping to find the one who will find the perfect home for my book so it can reach all of the folks meant to read it, a new title blew in with the first warm breeze of spring.  When I heard the name, short and simple yet so encompassing of the whole story, I felt the same certainty I felt when I first heard the name of my boy. So please dear readers, join me in visualizing the book Preemie, a memoir on bookshelves all over the country, heck… let’s visualize it all over the world!

So you’ll see a few changes on the website this week as I prepare to move forward and begin the next chapter of this premature journey!

Shark Meat, Cat Poop and French Toast or Just Another Thursday Morning at our House

I swore I would not get involved in son’s science fair project. Yet there I was, 6:30 in the morning, up to my elbows in yellow rubber gloves standing at the kitchen sink scraping shark meat away from shark skin. This was after last week’s trip to the craft store to buy clay for the model of the shark skin, blue paint to decorate the display board and the dried greens to hot glue on as seaweed.  This was also after my seven phone calls and two trips to the super market to see if a New Hampshire grocery store could somehow get a piece of shark meat (with the skin still on) in the middle of March.

So much for not getting involved.
glovesWhen Tucker learned that shark skin was used like sand paper by ancient cultures, his eyes got really big like they do when he’s excited, and I couldn’t help but getting excited, too. So I found shark meat.  Then the only catch, getting the shark meat off the skin. “Pee?” I asked. “The shark meat has to soak in pee?” “You should call it urine, Mom,” my son said trying to sound more scientific.

So while my kids wiped sleep from their eyes, I scraped the previously soaked shark meat (which I’d washed several times in antibacterial soap), took off the rubber gloves to whisk eggs for French toast and endured the cat rubbing around my legs in response to the smell of the shark meat. At least I thought it was the smell of the shark, until I glanced over and saw his empty food bowl as well as the long, chunky poop lying on the floor right in front of his bowl.  “It’s actually throw up, Mom,” Andie said upon closer examination.  “And it has mouse guts in it,” Tucker added.

I slid the shark meat away from the stove to make a spot to set down the bread and egg mixture while I explained to Andie how to turn a plastic bag inside out, stick her hand in and pick up the throw up without ever letting it touch her hand.  But Andie’s a gagger. “It’s warm,” she half gagged, half screamed, as she dropped the bag and ran into the bathroom where she dry heaved over the toilet bowl where the Tupperware bin and shark meat had not too long ago rested.  “Oh for God’s sake,” I said, wiping away my tears of laughter, flipping the French toast, and picking up the bag to scoop up the mouse laced throw up. I was back at the stove while Tuck donned the rubber gloves and had a go at scraping the sharkskin. I moved the pan to a burner further from the sink when I noticed bits of shark meat flying in the general direction of the stove.

Andie was back from the bathroom. Tucker was peeling back the smelly yellow rubber gloves and I was putting French toast on the table.  And then all at once, it hit me – the smell of the shark meat, the feel of the cat poop, the look of the gooey egg mixture. My stomach clenched, my throat tightened and… I gagged. Then I gagged again. The kids stared at me wide-eyed, wondering at the possibility of what might happen next.

But before we could find out, I pointed to their coats, headed for the back door and with my hand covering my mouth managed to mutter, “We’ll get breakfast on the way to school,” and wondered what adventures Friday morning could possibly bring.