Ice Skating at Fenway ParkI didn’t expect the stereotypes about Boston to be true. But yes, a lot of native Bostonians did have that thick “pahk the cah at Hahvahd yahd” accent. The also had the feeling of clannishness, despite being a modern, cosmopolitan city of four million people. It felt like a strong holdover from the days of large Irish and Italian populations, where who you knew was how you knew what was going on.

The girls played soccer and baseball in the North End Athletic Association, this marvelous little neighborhood league. Just like a million other places in America, we’d gather on Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons to watch our kids learn and compete (or listen to them complain about how they’d really rather be on the playground with their little brother). It was great. We got to know some families in the neighborhood, and we played at a park directly on the edge of the harbor, with the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill sitting picturesquely in front of us.

But the NEAA wasn’t just a vehicle for learning to catch fly balls. It was also the portal to insider deals. About once a week, the league organizer would send an email saying that through the mayor’s office, he had two/four/eight tickets to a Bruins game/a Red Sox game/some other special city event. A little boy in our building got to help carry a giant American flag onto the floor of the Garden before a Celtics game. First to reply got the tickets, and the emails always included a reminder that your child had to have played in that year’s league, plus an admonition to let someone else have a shot if you’d already gone that year.

In January, I finally replied fast enough to get tickets to something. Fenway Park had installed a temporary ice rink for the Frozen Fenway series, a selection of college and high school hockey games played outside in January, because watching hockey inside isn’t cold enough. Since the ice was up, the mayor’s office had arranged an under-the-radar community skating day. It wasn’t advertised in the newspapers and you couldn’t buy tickets to it. I don’t know how Back Bay or Jamaica Plain got their tickets, but ours came through the NEAA.

On a Monday night, Riley and I found ourselves headed west on the T to the stadium. With about a hundred of our fellow Bostonians, we were ice skating in short right field on a regulation-size rink. Never in a million years did I think I would ever stand—or skate—on the field in Fenway Park. The stadium lights were on and the field was bright as day. The famous old manual scoreboard in the Green Monster was at eye level. I’ll remember the feeling of looking up at the stands instead of down at the field; Riley will probably remember how annoying it was that her mom kept saying, “Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be here? This is amazing!”

We had debated where to live in Boston, especially once we wrapped our minds around the insanely high rent of downtown living. We ultimately, decided to forgo square footage, and financial responsibility, for a true urban experience. Like the time the guy from the soccer league got some tickets from the mayor’s office so that Riley and I could go through the gates at one of the country’s most famous ballparks on a Monday night in January and ice skate on the field.

Friends have asked if I wrote down any of our Boston stories as they happened last year. Writing? There was no writing in Boston. There was only homeschool, and by homeschool I mean strong emotions and battles of wills, where I ended each day emotionally exhausted, only capable of walking across the neighborhood for a cannoli. There’s always enough energy for a cannoli.

Now that we’re back in a real house and a real school, I thought I’d tell some of the stories from last year. Judging by the reactions we got to the “Where did you move from?” small talk, not many people move to the east coast from Montana. Like maybe no one, not ever.
—————-

Looking back through the pictures of last January, I found this beautiful reminder of what winter is like in a tiny apartment in the middle of the city. Somewhere between slightly miserable and horrid (if you look closely, you clearly cannot use the facilities without standing on wet snow boots or grabbing a stinky coat instead of a shower towel):

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE winter. Or at least I thought I loved winter, until I lived through a city winter. Regular winter isn’t all fun and games (scraping windshields, intermittently terrifying driving conditions), but the sledding, skiing, snowmen and beauty of a snowy day vastly outweigh the inconveniences. City winter, on the other hand, is mostly cold, wet feet and frozen dog poop. And also having your home’s only bathroom perpetually smell like a sauna for unwashed feet because you’re always using the space heater to try to dry out everyone’s wet snow pants. (Why not just use the dryer? Because the dryer is downstairs, costs $2/load, and there’s a 50/50 chance someone will steal your kids’ mittens. But that’s a topic for another day.)

So no, Boston winter was not super enjoyable. It was every bit as cold and dark as Montana, but without the outdoor activities. The kids had seen pictures of the 2015 Boston Snowmageddon and were fully expecting January to turn the North End into one giant snow cave. Instead, all that snowfall went to Montana, where our friends were skiing the most epic winter in 20 years. We, on the other hand, mostly got cold drizzle, occasionally upgraded to thick slush. I had to stop showing the girls pictures of their friends on the mountain because it made them cry and beg me to look for plane tickets home.

And getting around was a disaster. Our Montana neighborhood is hit-or-miss for shoveling sidewalks, but the farthest we have to walk is the four blocks to school, or we can just hop in the car. In Boston, our car was parked two miles away for half the winter, until we got into the “good” parking garage a quarter of a mile away. If we were going somewhere, it was on foot. And if we didn’t go somewhere, we lost our minds in our three-room minihome.

The real problem was that Jack still needed a stroller. He was three and a half—not a reliable distance hiker—and well over thirty-five pounds, so carrying him was about as appealing as slinging a few watermelons over my shoulder. When we packed up to move, I had to choose between bringing the good stroller or all of my clothes and shoes, so we had a cheapo Craigslist stroller. It was fine, until we got more than a half inch of snow, when it transformed into an exercise machine for resistance training. The wheels simply refused to roll. The world shrinks a lot when you’re limited to the walking radius of a three-year-old.

As I remember it, last winter was dark, damp, and littered with wet garbage and melting dog poop. We couldn’t stay home but we couldn’t get anywhere, either. It’s possible that we survived by spending those three months eating our feelings, especially because we could always motivate Jack to walk to Mike’s Pastry.

All I know for sure is that if Nick had come home one January day and announced that he’d learned everything he needed to know, I would have had the boxes packed before bedtime. When spring finally rolled around, I fell in love with Boston all over again, but January made me question why we had given up everything good in life to cram ourselves into a dark shoebox with our one bathroom constantly overflowing with steamy, stinky wet boots. Whoever said motherhood was sanctifying didn’t know the half of it.

VoterCard

Here’s some election news that is both hilarious and totally non-partisan. That’s a picture of my voter registration letter with our polling place. See where it says Columbus Plaza, Elderly Housing? That’s our apartment building.

Yep, we live in elderly housing. The full story is that the building was originally constructed as 62+ housing in the 1970s, but in one of the later renovations was opened up to everyone. Upon first look, it doesn’t resemble elderly housing (although the exterior does look like unfortunate 1974 architecture). The lobby has chic white tile floors, the light fixtures are sparkling, modern crystal, and the columns are fashionably encased in white granite. (The lobby furniture white as well, until someone realized that was a HORRIBLE IDEA and thankfully recovered them in dark fabric before mud season hit and we were forced to donate our security deposit to the steam-cleaning fund.)

But upon closer inspection, it’s clearly still elderly housing. Everyone we met for the first few weeks was at least a decade into Medicare coverage. (I’ve discovered over time that there are actually a lot of young people, but that we live our life on the old people schedule.) One of my first times in the building, an elderly woman started chatting with me while we waited for the elevator.
“Do you live here?” she asked.
“Yep, we just moved in,” I smiled.
“Oh really, what number?”
“214.”
“Gracie doesn’t live there anymore?”
I knew we got this apartment because someone died. “Nope, we moved in a few days ago,” I said. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard us—we have three kids.”
“You do! Well, when you get tired of them, send them down to me. Angie, 221. Tell them to tell me their mom said they could come down and say hi.”
“Thanks,” I said. Are you telling me that because you’re not going to remember on your own?
“Did you know I’m well into my 90s?”
“Well, you look great!”
“I’m 97. I’ve lived here since this place opened! I don’t pay what you pay, you know.”
I smiled. We both got out on the second floor. As we went through the door, Angie turned to me and said, “Do you live here?”
Oh dear.

Angie and I repeated our Bostonian Groundhog Day frequently. And Angie was just one of a cadre of people, mostly women, who have been in the building for decades. They get their hair set at a hairdressing station in the back of the laundry room. I kid you not—it has a sink, salon chairs, and heat lamp. A hairdresser comes a couple of times a week and they all sit in the back and chat in Italian while their rollers cool.

The rest of the week, they sit outside the building or in the lobby for an hour or so around dinnertime. We call them the porch ladies. As far as we can tell, they’re all lifelong North Enders, Italian, and Catholic. They all wear gold saint’s medallions, follow up nearly every opinion with “God bless him/her,” and keep us updated on any family events organized by the local churches and Catholic societies. They LOVE the kids. Especially Jack, who really wants nothing to do with them. Every night, they say, “Where’s Jack? Oh there he is,” (as he tries to climb inside the stroller and disappear), “There’s Jack. God bless him.”

I had to ask them if something had happened to Angie after I noticed she was missing from the porch for a while. Frankly, I was surprised to hear she had only broken her arm, but the ladies didn’t think she would be moving back in. Given that in addition to our looping conversation, she often mixed up which unit she lived in, it seemed like that might be a safer choice.

Like the lobby, our unit is sparkling new—they’ve been renovating each apartment between tenants (I’m assuming that’s generally a euphemism for “after the old guy died”) and we have stainless steel appliances, stone countertops, and wood-grain laminate floors. It’s a thin veneer of fancy over the its true assisted-living identity. All the outlets in our apartment are two feet off the ground, presumably because aching backs don’t like to bend all the way down. The hallway has a discreet white handrail on one side, just so no one breaks a hip on the way to the garbage chute. The building has a half-hearted nod to environmentalism with a skinny recycling bin on each floor, described by the leasing agent as, “and we have the recycling, because people want that kind of thing now.” I have a sneaking suspicion that it goes directly into the trash chute, but I’m hoping for the best.

Honestly, it’s everything I could hope for in our Boston experience. The apartment itself is nice, new, and clean, but the building is full of North End characters who somehow simultaneously provide a homey, welcoming community and the feeling that we are strangers in a land far from home. I can speak a little Italian with i anziani (the older people) and the girls have the distinction of being two of the three school-age kids in the older building, which makes them practically celebrities.

They’re just waiting for the chance to be extras when someone decides to shoot an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” promo video in the building.

It’s foggy in Boston this morning. Looking at the small corner of sky visible from our courtyard-facing apartment, I expect it to be cool and crisp. It’s not. The best I can say is that, while the air holds a whisper of warm and sticky, it’s actually pleasant outside.

Labor Day seems to have magicked away the hordes of tourists and ushered in the promise of fall, all in one breath. Now we might actually look like locals. All during July and August I felt like a tourist, for the simple reason that almost no one living in the downtown area has three kids. Where we came from, three kids is nothing, not remotely considered a big family. Here it’s practically cause for a double-take. All of them are YOURS? If you’re on the streets of downtown with three children in tow, you’re either employed as a shared nanny or visiting from somewhere.

But this morning I felt like I belonged, simply because I was still on the streets of the North End while everyone else had gone back to Omaha and Austin, back to the rhythm of the school year. Hmm, the school year. When IS ours going to start?

Because the local public schools are full, the private schools would have wiped out our savings account, and we’re headed back to Montana next summer, I’ve decided to homeschool this year. It puts me in the seemingly-unique position of Reluctant Homeschool Mom. Most of the homeschool families I know are passionate about their choice, either for positive feelings about their children or negative feelings about the school system. I’m almost the opposite. I love our little elementary school in Montana. As a wise parent of nearly-grown children once told me, “School is amazing. You send your kids there in the morning and they come home in the afternoon and they know stuff. All of a sudden, they can read, and add, and you didn’t have to do every inch of work to get them there.” Amen, sister.

And on the family side of things, I know without a doubt that I am not designed for 24-7 togetherness with my kids. Or anyone else, for that matter. So when I hear homeschool families use the phrase, “I just want a little more time to pour into my kids,” I think, I’m pretty sure I’d end up pouring rage into their little souls by Wednesday afternoon. Nope, not a good choice for us.

If I had any doubts about my personality, the kids made it abundantly clear to me last week when our Montana friends were starting school. I got a text from a friend asking for a little bit of prayer, so I asked the kids to say a quick one with me. I explained that their friends’ mom was a little bit sad that she had to send her girls back to school.

“WHY?” Riley asked.
Good question. “Well, it’s just the start of the new year and she’s sad that it’s time for them to go.”
“But YOU’RE never sad,” the girls both chimed in, puzzled.

Truth. I’m the mom waving good-bye with a huge smile on my face, hugging my teary-eyed friends on the playground and then skipping all the way home. I can hardly wait for two years from now and the Holy Grail of stay-at-home motherhood, when EVERYONE goes to full-day elementary school.

And yet here we are. Homeschool. For this year only, I really believe it is the best choice for us. We have this whole amazing city to explore, New England at our fingertips, and 10 months left to do it. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to have a great year. I am also finding it a tiny bit difficult to get launched, to transition from endless vacation to a structure and expectations. As Riley put it when I asked them when they’d like to start school, “I can’t really think about school now. It’s kind of like we’re on one big vacation because this isn’t our real home. Can’t we wait just a little bit longer?” I have to give myself a firm start date, though, or I’m going to wake up and it will be mid-October and the only thing the girls will know is how to assemble Lego cities and talk their mom into watching “just one more” Wild Kratts episode. (And I would then tell myself we’d covered Engineering and Zoology.) So we’re starting tomorrow. (Probably.)

Holding cockroaches . . . we'll call it entomology 101.

Holding cockroaches . . . we’ll call it entomology 101.

I also finally found the sanity-saving piece of the puzzle, a part-time babysitter, so I really think I can do this AND that we can actually all enjoy it. Without her, I’d be speed-dialing every school in Boston to see who can shoehorn in two more students. I have been with my children every single day since June 17 and I discovered, unfortunately about a month ago, that my temper gets a little shorter every day that I am smothered from morning until night with debates about Lego ownership, the feasibility of doing gymnastics in the tiny apartment, and the location of shoes and special blankets. With Melissa coming on board, I have renewed hope that all things are possible. But, as I tell everyone who expresses admiration for my bravery/supermom status (which is so, so far from the reality), “Check back in two months. We’ll se how it goes.”

IMG_5610The children know nothing. We thought we were teaching them something. We thought they were learning. But it turns out that they know almost nothing. Oh sure, they can tell you that if you see a mountain lion, you stop, make yourself as big and loud as you can, and get behind your mom. But—big surprise—there is almost zero overlap in social intelligence between Montana life and urban life. Especially in the following areas:

Sidewalks. We’re used to sidewalks that are four feet wide and nearly devoid of oncoming pedestrians. It never mattered if we walked four abreast; we weren’t sharing the space with anyone. Then we plopped out of the sky into the height of the tourist season and an apartment a stone’s throw from both Paul Revere’s house and the aquarium. Our part of Boston is so old that some of the sidewalks are maybe two feet wide from building to street and are packed with tourists walking with their noses glued to the Freedom Trail bricks. “Heads up, guys,” is my new mantra. And, inexplicably, all three children now want to hold my hand all the time. Anxiety over processing the move? I have no idea. I only have two hands. And three kids. We walk down sidewalks like we’re trying to play an incredibly annoying version of Red Rover with all the oncoming pedestrians. Even though we have neither fanny packs, guide books, nor sensible walking sneakers, we are going to spend the whole year looking like tourists because WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE A SIDEWALK CORRECTLY.

Buttons. The city has crossing buttons at every intersection, buttons in our elevator, buttons everywhere. We need what is essentially a magnetic button to get into our building. Despite the overwhelming presence of buttons in our lives, the kids react to the sight of each one like cocaine-conditioned lab rats. Every single button must be hit 482 times by each child to ensure it works. Especially crossing buttons that say “wait” each time they’re pushed. Those must be worked to the beat of a 1980s synthesizer (“Wait, wait, wa- wa- wa- wait”) until the walk light changes or the fellow pedestrians beat the children with their umbrellas. Races to the elevator button start three blocks away. There is no wrath like that of a child who was told he could push a button but was edged out by a faster sibling. Telling them they will push approximately 2 million buttons in their lives doesn’t seem to help. Telling them that I hope they have lots of children and that they all constantly fight to the death over who pushed which button first and how many times at least makes me feel a little better.

Subway stations and train cars. Two words: don’t touch. What my kids hear: Touch it all! THEN touch your eyes, nose and mouth. There’s no guarantee you’ll for sure find some illness as terrible as the pneumonia-inducing virus we started Boston with, but if you touch every part of the subway station and all possible mucous membranes on your face, you’ll definitely increase your odds. Yes, I know the woman we rented our short-term vacation rental from chalked up our horrible virus to the change in the weather, but I have two words for you: Germ Theory. It’s a thing. Have some hand sanitizer. Maybe gargle just a little of it.

Strangers. When a random old dude approaches our family at the subway stop and starts talking about how wonderful you children are, the appropriate response is to smile politely and offer content-free responses, not give him our entire back story including city of origin, ages, and general location of our apartment. Yes, it is confusing. And yes, I’m sort of glad you have innocence instead of a creepo radar. But for the love, follow my lead. You were not put on this earth to fill in the information I choose not to share with people.

Streets. You know what makes your parents and oncoming cars really, really nervous? Standing with your toes on the edge of the curb while we wait for the light to change. Oh, you’re not going to fall into the road? Well, that’s reassuring. I’ve never seen any of you do anything by accident, ever. How about we all take three big steps back.

Puddles. Yes, I am sure it is confusing that you may jump in any puddle you want in the forest but I react like you dipped your feet in radioactive waste when you jump off the curb into a puddle outside our apartment. That’s because there’s a good chance that the opaque, oily curbside blackness you call a “puddle” may actually be radioactive, or concealing rotting fruit, rat droppings, vomit, or all of the above. You might roll your eyes at me now, but who’s going to be laughing when your flip-flop dissolves? Fountains are for splashing in; puddles are for avoiding.

I was reminded that the kids do have some survival skills, even if they’re not super applicable here, when we walked past the information building for the Boston Harbor Islands National Park. The building is on the Greenway, a small park median between downtown and the North End, strategically placed to advertise that there is actually a national park just a short ferry ride from downtown. Charlotte studied the park ranger, who was decked out in the same green-and-brown uniform and flat-brimmed hat as all park rangers everywhere, and said, “I bet he doesn’t have to take bear spray to work.”

No, sweetie, here they call it pepper spray and they use it on people.

To make a long story very short, as of a week ago we are living in Boston for a year. Nick is doing a fellowship and we are having a big-city break from our Montana life. We drove away with the bear spray still in the garage and all the fancy shoes I haven’t worn in years packed in the car. Basically the complete inverse of every summer until now.

July 1 was Nick’s first day of work and mine as well. He went to the hospital and I donned my battle armor to take three children to the aquarium solo. We’re renting a place in the heart of the city, but we can’t get in until mid-month, so for the moment we’re in a vacation rental in a near suburb. When we first drove into Brookline I thought maybe we’d made a mistake in our determination to live IN Boston—Brookline isn’t a suburb in the McMansion/Target/Starbucks sense of the word; it’s city living 15 subway stops away from the city. It has plenty of old-city charm. And we could get a whole lot more square footage for our dollars.

I really started to second-guess myself when we discoverd that an incredible playground and fountain splash pad is four blocks from our current place. The first morning after our arrival, the kids were crawling on every square foot of it and I found myself in a conversation with a born-and-bred Boston suburban mom after Riley had chatted her up and given her our entire backstory. (If someone were trying to follow our trail from Montana, they’d pretty much be able to find us based on the hundreds of people who have been told every detail about moving to BOSTON for ONE YEAR and leaving ALL OUR FRIENDS behind so Dad could have a NEW JOB.)

“Wow, you moved from MONTANA?” she asked. We’ve noticed, since we hit the eastern states, that people talk about Montana with a mix of awe and wonder, like it’s somewhere between a John Wayne movie and Atlantis. Tough, rugged, and probably a myth.

“Yep, my husband has a fellowship so we’re here for a year.”
“So are your kids going to Brookline schools?”
“No, we’re actually just here for a little while until we can get into our apartment—we’re renting a place in the North End. We figured that if we were going to be in the big city, we wanted to live in the heart of it,” I explained.
“Wow, that’s awesome,” she said, sounding a little envious. “Me, I’m stuck out here in Brookline. This is my life.”

And I knew right then that we had chosen wisely. We might be cramming ourselves in an expensive, charmless, two-bedroom apartment, but I refuse to spend my one city year feeling “stuck in Brookline.”

Because taking three kids into the city alone today confirmed that I would never look forward to leaving Brookline without a more balanced adult-to-child ratio. We got up at 7 and didn’t make it out the door until 10, even though I was the only one who showered. Or brushed my teeth. When it takes three hours to get three people to dress, eat, fill water bottles and put shoes on, I really can’t face those extra layers of personal hygiene.

Even though everyone had just gone to the bathroom, everyone had to go to the bathroom again when we stopped at the grocery for lunch food and a T pass. (The Boston subway system is called the T.) Three kids in a grocery store bathroom. Super fun. And then:

“Hey guys, why is there water all over the floor?” I asked, looking down at a pool that seemed to be spreading from our backpack. Just as the words left my mouth, I remembered Charlotte saying she’d taken a drink from my screw-top water bottle, instead of her leakproof one, as we were walking down the sidewalk. Sure enough, the top was about halfway secured and draining from the sideways backpack she’d dumped on the bathroom floor.

So we mopped the floor with paper towels, got our lunch, and headed for the T. We are literally 16 T stops from the Aquarium. It’s at least a 30-minute ride. And would easily qualify for a circle of hell with these three in tow.

“Please put your bottom on your seat. No, you can’t stand up. Because if you stand up, everyone will want to stand up, and then you’ll be rolling around the car. Because I’ve seen how everything escalates, that’s how I know what will happen. Please don’t put your hands in your mouth. Because half of Boston has touched everything you just touched. Because you just had explosive diarrhea in Michigan and this is probably how you got it, that’s why. Please don’t hit your sister with Monkey. Please don’t hit me with Monkey. Please don’t play growling games. Because they always end badly, that’s why. Sam, it hurts when you grab my face. Girls, can you please put your feet in your own space? Sam, it hurts when you kick me. Girls, can you please keep your hands in your own space? If we can’t sit quietly, we’re going to get on a train going the other way and go home.” (This is a flat bluff—the LAST thing I am going to do is extend this journey one minute longer.)

We finally, FINALLY, get off and everyone immediately dies a thousand deaths from the heat. It’s probably 80 degrees with 70 percent humidity. I resist the urge to tell them it’s going to get much, much worse. We walk the green space toward the museum. The kids refuse to walk on any sidewalk if there’s ever a curb, landscaping border, or wide railing option, so they’re traipsing along a foot-wide granite border that’s about two feet off the ground. Then Charlotte walks right off the end of it, looking off into the distance at something. Dandelions, butterflies, I don’t know. She is miraculously uninjured, so a few minutes later she walks right off the curb into a busy street while dreaming about unicorns. We joked about leaving one of the kids with my parents so we’d fit better into an apartment, but now I’m starting to wonder if all three of them really will survive the year. One thing is for sure: if that kid ever plays T-ball, right field has her name all over it.

We do the Aquarium, which is wonderful except that children A, B, and C constantly want to see things X, Y, and Z, shooting off into the dimly-lit exhibit nooks while I try to decide who needs most watching, or if I should just get my book out and sit in front of the exit until they materialize or security pages me. When we’ve had all the fun we’re going to have, it takes me a half hour to corral everyone and convince them that it really is time to go and that they’re exhausted. Or I am exhausted. Whatever. For four hours, I’ve had a child swinging from one limb while another one digs around in my purse or drifts away on a tangent and a third tattles on the unseen (or let’s be honest, ignored) actions of the first and second.

And because going home means a long subway ride, I’m faced with the terrible proposition of should we stay (until Nick is able to join us after his short-day orientation) or should we go (to the suburbs and never return, telling the kids that downtown was just a mass hallucination and hey, let’s go get ice cream). After confirmation that he’s leaving soon-ish, I try to perk us all up with coffee and treats. Cannolis make the children cry—sweetened, creamy ricotta filling is apparently an acquired texture—but donuts (and a double espresso) give everyone the energy for Boston Common, soaking themselves in a playground/splash pad, and being subjects in a Harvard Developmental Studies experiment. Like you do when you’re six years old in Boston. (The study was apparently on children’s decision making, where they had to decide between playing with cute erasers or candy, then explain how they chose. Charlotte explained her eraser choice with some esoteric information about our family’s new limited-dessert experiment that I guarantee made no sense to the 19-year-old on the other side of the table.)

If I had gone down to the T without Nick by my side and seen the mass of humanity getting on every green line train, I probably would have tied the children to each other and started downloading Uber. Instead, we summoned our inner urbanites and smashed our party of five onto a car, bullet train-style. Looking around at the sea of blue and red and spotting a baseball glove, I realized we’d unwittingly tried to ride west at the same time as a city full of Red Sox fans. A fitting end to the day, but at least the stadium was only 5 stops into the 16-stop ride home.

North End dinner

Mi piacciono gli spaghetti! MMMMM!

Our North End lease can’t start quickly enough for me. Or this guy.

I came down with a nasty fever Thursday night that led into a couple unpleasant days of a stomach bug. My first thought, as I was sitting on the couch and starting to realize that I actually was sick and not just paranoid, was, I’m so thankful Nick doesn’t have to work tomorrow. And before that thought had even finished, Oh my gosh, I get to stay up late and watch crappy TV! And I get to sleep as much as I want tomorrow! I don’t have to take care of anyone or feel bad about not taking care of anyone because I can’t. I AM SICK.

Seriously, I have a problem. Within a half hour of those thoughts, I was shivering so much that I had buried myself under three blankets and was begging Nick to bring me a scalding-hot cup of water to warm my hands.

“This is going to burn your fingerprints off; I microwaved it,” he warned me.

“Perfect,” I said. “I can’t get my hands warm. I don’t need fingerprints, I just need to stop freezing.”

And still, a quiet part of my brain was throwing a party in celebration of my impending parenting snow day. Nick put a bowl next to the couch because I looked like I was about to start puking and headed off to bed, since he was now In Charge of All the Children. While willing my dinner to stay down, I silently reveled in watching The Tonight Show guilt-free, at least as much as I could in between nodding off and slipping into strange fever dreams.

Something is wrong with me. Who, besides people with Munchausen’s syndrome, celebrates feeling so terrible that a walk to the bathroom is akin to stumbling to the outhouse in a blizzard? And I know I don’t have Munchausen’s because I don’t want attention. All I wanted was to be left alone, blissfully alone with my DVDs of the West Wing.

But the more I started to think about why I had this bizarro reaction—especially even after realizing there is nothing on TV worth watching at 11 a.m. on a Friday—the more I realized that being seriously injured or ill is honestly the only guilt-free way to get out of parenting my children. Every day for the last eight-ish years—except for the handful of other times I’ve been bedbound—I have either been parenting, co-parenting, or have felt some degree of guilt and shirked responsibility over handing off the parenting duties to someone else. I know I have above-average opportunities to get away from time to time, but that always comes with the feeling that I’m still somehow responsible for the kids, especially if they are not behaving for the substitutes. We should be there, my brain says. I’m glad we’re not, but I still sort of feel bad they’re doing our job. Even if Nick is the one at home while I’m elsewhere. I know he is a fully equal parent and totally capable of running our herd, but I also know very well how unpleasant solo parenting can be. We’re having a great time, my brain says. Try not to think about how crazy things are at home and how much Nick could use a second set of hands right now. We’re having a great time. They’ll still be emotional and needy when we get home. You can catch up on it then.

When I am sick, however, I am responsible for NOTHING and NO ONE. It’s a vacation of sorts, if you only define “vacation” as “time away from work,” without any element of enjoyment or fun. Ok, it’s more like a Get Out of Parenting Free card. But hey, I’ll take what I can get. Even if that means The Price is Right, sweaty pajamas, and a tall glass of ginger ale. Paaarty.

Type “tooth fairy” into Pinterest. Go on, I dare you. You will find approximately 2 million adorable, “wouldn’t this be fun” ideas, including: printable tooth fairy receipts, printable tooth fairy letters, several hundred templates for tooth-pocket pillows, how to make glittery fairy money, dollar bill origami for the tooth fairy to leave behind, and a tutorial for making a tiny tooth fairy door that opens into a picture of magical tooth fairy land with a place to clip a tiny (handmade) envelope with the tooth waiting to be picked up. Holy moly.

The Tooth Fairy was invited into our home about eight months ago, and as someone who has now dabbled in fairy magic, I strongly advise you to take one look at those adorable Pinterest ideas and multiply them by the number of teeth still to be lost under your roof. Then sneak in to your child’s room, remove their tooth from their pillow, and replace it with a dollar. Paper dollar, four quarters, gold dollar, whatever you got. Now spend the rest of the evening reading a good book—or a trashy book, I’m not here to judge—instead of spraying money with glitter hair spray (probably a federal crime as well as a time-waster) and filling out elaborate tooth receipts that itemize which tooth was lost, the condition it was in, and also include witty dental commentary from the Tooth Fairy. I should clarify that if these tiny, obsessive projects bring you joy, absolutely go for it. I get it—I sometimes find my happy place cleaning windowsills with a Q-tip—but only if it’s for you. It is your job to make sure your children brush their teeth (most of the time); it is not your job to fold the Tooth Fairy dollar into an origami jet plane. For the love, do not keep up with the Joneses on this one.

I had sympathized with the general sentiment that holidays keep getting increasingly overdone for our kids, that Valentine’s Day now yields a Halloween-like stash of candy and trinkets instead of 20 cardstock notes, and children will expect the leprechauns to turn the milk green on St. Patrick’s Day and leave little green footprints across the house. But I pretty much just stuck to the basics—okay, our store-bought valentines now come with little stickers or tattoos, but St. Patrick’s Day is still just a poorly-defined reason to wear green and pick up parade candy on Main Street in the sleeting rain—because that’s what worked for our family. Until the Tooth Fairy.

Now, I remember the Tooth Fairy of my childhood. I had a special pillow with a pocket. When I lost a tooth, I put it in the pocket. The next morning there was a quarter. Or two. That’s it. And I was happy. Trading old body parts for cash was a pretty good deal—what else was I going to do with them? The Keratin Fairy certainly didn’t leave nickels for fingernail clippings, so the idea that teeth had monetary worth was exciting enough in itself.

I’ve re-joined the world of the Tooth Fairy to find that times have changed. Riley was seven when she lost her first tooth. It was even more of a momentous occasion because she had been dying for that moment since kindergarten. For two years, we’d been hearing, “I think my tooth is wiggling! Does this tooth look loose? What about this one?” Two years. It’s a long time to maintain a running conversation on the state of someone’s incisors. So, not thinking about the long-term repercussions, I one-upped the Tooth Fairy of my childhood. Barely, people, barely, but it was enough. I rolled her dollar bill up and tied it with a dental floss bow, then wrote a tiny note from the Tooth Fairy in glitter pen. It said, Congratulations on losing your first tooth! -Tooth Fairy.

And the wheels were in motion.

The next tooth was left with a note:

Tooth Fairy note

Dear Tooth Fairy, can you tell me your name: _______ And if you can give me some fairy dust, please do.

I suppose the Tooth Fairy had left the first note, so writing back seemed like fair play. I went with it, because really, at that point there weren’t a lot of other choices. Along with the heightened expectations, the worst part about the tooth fairy is that it requires forced creativity after 9 p.m., not exactly my finest hour of the day. But with a little help from the Fairy Name Generator, Briar Wonderweb was born. Briar explained to Riley that “my boss said we can’t hand out fairy dust, but I did leave a little sparkle [a.k.a. glitter glue] on your dollar! P.S. Nice job brushing! Your tooth is beautiful.” If I’m going to go all in on this, I at least might layer on a little dental hygiene reinforcement.

Then, about a month ago, another tooth fell out and suddenly the Tooth Fairy had a straight-up pen pal.

IMG_4779

Dear Breann Wonderweb, how old are you? And what is your birthday? And what is your phone number?

 

Seriously. The other thing about the Tooth Fairy is that it’s really easy to forget that the Tooth Fairy is due for a visit. Once I survive the kids’ bedtime, I tend to spend the rest of the evening on one of the 400,000 things in my life that need doing (or, let’s be honest, watching Anthony Bourdain), not reviewing the children’s needs and desires. It’s not usually until I’m brushing my own teeth that I think, Wait. . . teeth. . .there was something I was supposed to do that had something to do with teeth . . . ugh. And double ugh when I go in to find a list of requests in addition to the tooth. Seriously, those of you who do Elf on the Shelf, HOW DO YOU DO IT? Every night for a month? About five days in, I’d end up telling the kids Santa wasn’t real just so I could be done with the elf charade.

And yes, Riley changed her Tooth Fairy’s name to Breann. She was never convinced the note said Briar—when she tried to read it herself, she said, “BRIAN Wonderweb? My Tooth Fairy is a BOY?” I tried to re-interpret it as Briar, like Briar Rose (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty), but apparently that was a crappy Tooth Fairy name. I question how much you can really believe in the Tooth Fairy if you feel licensed to change her name.

In case you’re curious, the answers were: I am as old as the first baby’s first laugh (thank you, Peter Pan); my birthday is when the moon hits the highest peak in winter (no, this makes no sense but it was 9:45 and I wanted to go to bed); and fairies don’t use phones—when necessary, we send messages by thistledown (I am not faking phone calls from the tooth fairy. No. There are limits to playing along, and I know your babysitters taught you what Snapchat is.).

Riley had actually lost two teeth in about a week, but had hoarded them and doled them out one at a time for the tooth fairy to maximize her communication opportunities. I’m not making this up. That is how her mind works.

IMG_4782

Dear Tooth Fairy, Do you have any questions? And if you do, can I answer it on Thursday night. But I have two more questions. One is, do you know any leprechauns’ names? And do you know Alison’s tooth fairy? Oh and could you take a picture of yourself and tape it to my piece of paper?

 

Nothing like texting a girlfriend at 10 p.m. and praying that she’s still awake so you don’t have to make up a reason the Tooth Fairy doesn’t know Riley’s friend’s tooth fairy’s name. Notice the leprechaun question? Somehow the mythology of St. Patrick’s Day was getting assimilated with the Tooth Fairy. Enough of this. Answers, in order: “What is your biggest dream for your life?” Mine is that you would move on to your next obsession and let me go back to a simple teeth=cash exchange. “I can only visit when you leave teeth out.” We are not having a nightly, open-ended exchange of ideas. Nope. “I do not have Leprechaun friends; they tend to stick near Ireland and I like warm, sunny places.” I am not adding to the cast of characters in this fantasy world. Sorry, except I’m not really. “Alison’s tooth fairy works in a different office but I believe her name is Molly.” Obviously the Tooth Fairy needs to know the answer or the whole thing becomes untenable, but too much familiarity and I’ll end up duped into channeling the voices of two fairies. “I’m sorry, but tooth fairies cannot bring cameras to work—the flash wakes the children.” No phone calls, no photos. I’m writing to you; as your wise mother says, you get what you get and you’re happy with it.

This whole tooth fairy thing feels like it’s getting exponentially more complicated and she’s only lost five teeth. We still have fifteen—FIFTEEN—to go. The answer to the next note might just be, The leprechauns said your curiosity is ruining the magic. They told me to tell you NO MORE QUESTIONS or they’ll take me back to Ireland with them and I’ll only be able to collect your teeth on St. Patrick’s Day. P.S. They also said the Elf on the Shelf weakens the magic of Santa Claus, so be sure you don’t ever ask your mom to invite him to your home or you’ll ruin Christmas.

newborn babyWe are not having any more babies. Somehow it seems fitting to come back to the blog with this statement, since my first pregnancy was what started my writing journey.

We are not having any more babies. Seven words. Conceptually simple (no pun intended). But holy cow, what an idea to wrap my mind around. Even though it’s not exactly a recent revelation—we had only ever planned on three kids, and it’s been a good length of time since we did the things you do when you’re absolutely sure you don’t want to add any more tiny generals to the insurgency that stages a daily coup at breakfast. And to be very, very clear, I don’t regret our decision for a minute. I love holding babies but I don’t feel a pang or a qualm when I hand them back. Your little guy is adorable. Excuse me while I go sleep through the night. Even so, somehow I’m only now suddenly, finally, really wrapping my mind around what no more babies means for me as a mama.

Maybe it’s because Nick and I are in Hawaii this week, and the last time we were in Hawaii I had two kids under five and was six months pregnant with the third. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently spent time with friends who have tiny babies and find myself over-romanticizing life with an infant. I have to carefully watch myself so I don’t accidentally say something stupid like, “It goes by so fast! Hold onto these moments,” accompanied with a big, sentimental sigh. Yes, so fast. I’ve only spent eight full years of my life at moderate alert, the baseline threat level to make sure three small people are sleeping but still breathing, eating but not choking, running but not in traffic, and playing but not breaking themselves or others. Ok, it’s not “fast” in the same way a tropical vacation goes by fast. More like “fast” in the way your entire life flashes before your eyes when you think you’re about to have a terrible car accident. Why am I wishing for those days back? Why would I EVER tell someone else that 24-7 assault on your body and mind is the best that it gets? STOP THE TALKING, MOUTH. STOP.

I am indescribably disgusted by Trump encouraging his supporters to punch other people in the face for saying things they don’t like to hear, but if you ever hear me tell a worn-out friend who was up three times in the middle of the night with an infant and is trying to make it to lunchtime without irrationally yelling at the two-year-old that “these days are so precious,” please at least kick me under the table. I’m not condoning violence, but sometimes I need a reminder to keep my genius pearls of wisdom to myself.

I’m beginning to understand the perspective of the people who say the things to exhausted mamas of tiny people that make them want to scream, or better yet, hand their kids over and go sit quietly in a coffee shop with a magazine while the deluded stranger gets a firsthand reminder of how a trip through Target can feel like the kind of torture that would make you sell out your own grandmother to make it stop. If you are currently the recipient of well-meaning but incredibly misguided commentary, let me tell you this about the misty-eyed women ruining your day: WE REMEMBER THE MOMENTS. WE DON’T REMEMBER THE REALITY. I don’t even remember the reality, and Sam is only 2 1/2. I hold a tiny baby and I remember the moment of holding him as a tiny baby on my chest in a rocking chair. Not the reality of holding my tiny baby on my chest in a rocking chair while thinking, Please, oh please let this be the end of the colic for tonight because I have two other kids to put to bed, a sink full of dishes, no underwear for tomorrow, and Sweet Holy Moses, I used the last of the coffee beans this morning. So I also need to go to the store, but I’m so tired I just want to crawl under the crib and sleep for a week.

And then, like waking up from a realistic and stressful dream, you’re suddenly done with that part of your life. The part that you never knew what it would be like until you were in it, and once you were in it each hour lasted a week and each day was practically guaranteed to last for the rest of eternity. Then, all of a sudden, one day you realize that you’re really not a mom of babies any more. I’m not ever going to breastfeed again. If I carry a baby in a pack, it’s going to be as a favor to a friend. Really? Really-really? Wow. I’m not sure whether I should dance or cry.

I feel like eight years ago, someone plopped me at a trailhead in the Rockies and said, “Time to start. Go that way.” And I walked. And walked. And walked. And sometimes it was so breathtaking that I wept, and sometimes it was so brutal that I cried, but every day I was on the trail, and all I could see in front of me was an endless mountain range, sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes flat, but always mountains. I knew that one day I’d have to run out of Rockies (my sense of geography is bad, but not that bad), but I couldn’t make myself believe it. No two days were the same, but I had nowhere to go but the trail, always walking.

Until this moment when I lift my eyes from the path and realize the mountains are flattening out. And instantly, it’s so easy to look back in regret. If only I’d known it would be over so soon, I would have lingered longer at that sunset. I would have soaked my feet in that stream. I would have sung as I climbed that steep, steep peak, instead of crying because my lungs hurt, my feet hurt, and I was just so weary from every day before and every day still to come. Moments, totally detached from reality. It can be a wonderful part of human nature; after all, it’s why our first children have siblings. Childbirth wasn’t THAT bad, and holding a sleeping newborn was so magical. We should totally do that again.

But staying on the tightrope of savoring the moments we treasure without falling into the abyss of regretting that every second wasn’t one of them is tricky. It’s hard to discredit the little voice that says you could have done better, that you missed so many chances in a season of life that will never come again. As I was thinking about this, about the days I was grumpy or overwhelmed by the insignificant, the days I didn’t want to be with my kids let alone savor their quirky little personalities, I realized that every day that has passed is a day my kids will never have again, either. They’ll never be one again, or two or five. And you know what? They had bad days, too. Days when they didn’t savor any moments. Days when they were cranky and snarly and totally failed to appreciate the glory of their life. But we’ve never told our kids that they could have done a better job last year, that they somehow missed out on the potential of their childhood because they maybe didn’t do their very best every day. We try to tell our kids to embrace the good, learn from the mistakes but also let them go, and, ultimately, do their best to choose happiness.

They can’t stay tiny forever. God knows what He’s doing, because none of us could survive that. I may never see another child of mine for the first time, but I can hold onto the memory of the three amazing times that I did. And now my arms are free to hold other mamas’ babies (at least until Sam sees me and reclaims the lap territory), possibly to give my friends the tiny bit of breathing space they need to be able to savor the moment with their own perfect children. Babies are a season, and I hope I can appreciate someone else’s without longing for the mythical days of my own, to cherish the moments but also to remember the reality.

I haven’t written anything in a long time. Partly because the projects jumping out at me from every nook and cranny of our house were starting to take a serious toll on my mental health, and partly because I went through a stretch where I just didn’t feel like I had anything to say. The Internet needs another person rambling on for no reason at all like I need my two-year-old to throw a cup of milk at the wall (yep, that happened yesterday). Messy walls and pointless ramblings. Not going to make anyone’s life better.

I had been working up a blog that I was getting ready to write about how there’s nothing helpful in the statement, “My kids never. . .” or “When my kids were little, I never . . .” because there’s no space for grace in a comment like that, and if by chance you or your kids HAVE . . ., it doesn’t do much for your parenting psyche. So that’s what I was, and am, working on. And then this morning happened.

Sam and I were at the grocery store for the baking supply sale. (wohoo! cheap flour! . . . I need to get out more!) He is very accustomed to getting a free cookie at the bakery counter. Like his Pavlovian response to seeing a grocery cart is, “Can I have a cookie?” Which, fine, whatever. Third kid. If having a frosted cookie at 9 a.m. is the difference between happy shopping and a half hour of screaming, I’m not going to die on that nutritional mountain. We brush his teeth, he drinks mostly water. I’m good with it.

Unfortunately, the baking sale grocery store doesn’t do kid cookies. They usually have some sort of sample, but it’s often some inferior donut hole or lemon poppyseed bread or something else that makes him think the world is conspiring against him and what is OBVIOUSLY his God-given right to a free cookie. So I approach this particular store with a bit of trepidation. And this morning, there weren’t any samples of any kind. Not even frosted banana bread. I thought, Surely I can bribe him with the promise of something later. If he starts screaming, we’ll just shop super fast and get out of here. Third kid. I’m totally willing to feed him crap right after breakfast, but I’m equally capable of shopping my entire list while he screams bloody murder. Buddy, sometimes life is rough. I’m sorry your world has ended, but we still need eggs.

We breezed past the sample-free bakery toward the produce. He didn’t say anything. He was out of the cart and walking, since it was just the two of us, and I thought maybe that had distracted him.

“Hey Sam, can you help me find some carrots?”
He walked toward the carrots, then stopped. “I want a cookie!”
Crap. “I’m sorry, buddy, they don’t have any today. Let’s look for onions!”
Perhaps you did not hear me, Mother. Or are you unaware that we have arrived at the grocery store? “I WANT A COOKIE!”
“I know you want a cookie. They don’t have any today. We can find a cookie when we get home, but there aren’t any for us today. We’re just going to have to keep going.”

And . . . disaster. He took off at full speed toward the bakery, which is a fairly standard, non-disastrous response. What I wasn’t expecting was for him to slip and crash to the floor, coming up screaming with a face full of blood. Blood everywhere. Like so much instant blood that I wasn’t sure if he smashed his nose or his teeth or bit through his tongue. And I had nothing with me. Not a kleenex, or a baby wipe, or an EMT first responder kit. Nothing. I had actually realized my unpreparedness when we got out of the car at the store and I saw that we had neither diapers nor wipes in the car, but I figured the worst that meant was a stinky ride home, totally forgetting there can always be something worse.

Did I mention that Sam’s gut response to injury is to run and scream and not let anyone come near him? And that it’s really hard to stop a bloody nose (I was able to figure out that all the blood was thankfully coming from the nose) when a child is baking away, screaming, and shaking his head back and forth? It was like a low-budget horror movie. Blood all over him, a good bit of blood on me, blood splattered on the floor. Fortunately the produce department stocks paper towels with the plastic bags, but I could barely hold onto him well enough to wipe the streaming blood, let alone pinch off the nosebleed.

I must have looked like I had the situation completely under control (how? how could it have looked anything like that?) because no one offered to help me. Nothing. I understand letting a mom deal with her child screaming bloody murder without inserting yourself, but the presence of actual blood, which was now spattered over a four-foot radius and still streaming out of Sam, seems like it would change things a bit. I am all for people keeping their unhelpful parenting commentary to themselves, but please, if any member of my family is visibly bleeding, throwing up, or passed out, let me say right now that you are not being obnoxious by inquiring whether I might need a hand, kleenex, or hazmat response team.

In desperation, I hustled over to the bakery counter and asked if someone could please get me some ice. The ladies were super helpful, also coming back with a warm, wet towel. (They didn’t want it back when we were done. Weird.) Sam finally let me close enough to ice his nose, we got both of us and the floor cleaned up (he was much more concerned about the floor than his hands and face) and finished buying 15 pounds of sugar and eight bags of chocolate chips, both of us probably looking a bit shell-shocked. I can’t speak for Sam, but I walked to the car with that same leftover adrenaline rush as when I’ve nearly missed hitting something with my car.

So happy Thursday. If your parenting day goes in a completely unexpected direction, just remind yourself you’re not alone. Life with kids. You really, really cannot make this stuff up.