Super Condensed Summer

August 16, 2009

Dear Family,

In mid-day in spring and summer, our window placement prevents direct sunlight from entering our living room. But on Friday I saw a sliver of light on the floor, signaling the winding-down of the season.

Jeff is already in mourning.


It's been such a good week. And it's strangely true that sweetness and fun just don't make for good jokes. If I really do meet my goal this year, of becoming a happy person, I might have to stop writing update letters.


Great times with old friends create a silver lining in the whole cloud of Getting Older. I never got it before, but now I'm starting to: the passage of time creates history, which has this knack for transforming really awesome people into irreplaceable friends.

Maybe part of it is that those friends, you know for sure, have been experiencing the time passing, too...

Ron and Karen were on their bikes when Jeff first met them twelve years ago, in the Grand Tetons. Bike trip connections seem to be rooted in concentrated experience, and it was like that even though I didn't get to know them until a year or two after the trip.

But none of us had met any of the kids who have sprouted in the past six years. Until last weekend, when Karen and Ron and Connor arrived for an action-packed six-day visit to Ithaca. Here's an approximate transcript of a conversation attempted between the two couples at the dinner table:

Sara: So, how's life in Maryland?

Ron: Good, we're...

Ben: Mama! I need the scissors!! Where are they?

Sara: On your table.

Ron: Well, just that it's...

Ben: They're NOT on the table! Where ARE they? I need to cut something!

Sara: _I_ didn't put them anywhere, Sweetie. Where did you last use them?

Jeff: I'll come find them. [Instantly locates scissors.]

Sara: Okay, let's be quick: serious, meaningful topics in three sentences or less.

Jeff: How 'bout that Habitat Destruction??

Karen: Actually, they're building a new highway near us, and thirty houses had to come down. The people...

Jem: Mama! POOP!!

Sara: Okay, use the step stool. [Sounds of scraping and banging from bathrom.]

Karen: It's...

Jem: [Pooping at the speed of light] DONE! DONE!! DONE!!! Mama--DONE!

Connor: Mommy, can we read this book?

Karen: Sure, Honey, in a couple of minutes. Are you hungry? You've still got dinner on your plate.

Ben: Where's the tape?

Sara: Jem, please go back and sit on the toilet till I get there. Hey Jeff, keep notes for me, okay? You can update me on the conversation when I get back.

Ben: I can't find the stapler! Where _IS_ it!?

--End of Conversation.

Pop Quiz: What was the conversation topic? Two bonus points if you can remember any complete sentences, and who uttered them.


Despite our vivacious young'uns, Karen and Ron and Jeff and I carved out one evening to hang out, after the final child fell 10:22pm. It was totally worth the late night, and the brownies and vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries were delicious, and the perseids even shot a few meteors in our general direction before the sky clouded over.


Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who notices certain non-sequiturs in the world. For example, an advertisement on a business card I saw recently: "Skincare for children inspired by the world of Eric Carle."

In case you don't remember, Eric Carle writes children's books, and is best known for "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

Is it just me??


Through a somewhat miraculous chain of events, we went strawberry picking--yes, strawberries in August!--on Monday evening. And then again last night. I cannot fully convey how incredible it is to pick berries on a warm summer night. Possibly one of my best recent memories. Like somewhere, somehow, my good luck is grinning.


Jem is a very busy man these days. On Monday, when I took my eyes off him for three seconds to snap a photo of Ben, I heard a sickening thump. We were at the treehouse at the Cayuga Nature Center, and Jem was suddenly at the bottom of one of the ladders.

He cried for a long time, especially because he also needed a nap. He had a bruised tailbone, and injured pride, and I was simultaneously annoyed with him and feeling like the worst mother on the planet.

"Like," I wanted to explain to anyone who could hear, "I only took my eyes off him for a SECOND! Honest. And I TOLD him to wait for me before climbing! And he didn't listen! And really, I spend most of my waking moments supervising him, and I really _am_ a good mom. He's never been to the emergency room, or even had stitches. And I don't hover too much, so he's really a good climber, it's just that the ladder was wet and slippery. And see, he wants to nurse. He likes me!"

It's strange, which events can trigger a sudden worry about what other people think.

That same evening, there was another heart-stopping incident involving a speeding cyclist, and a well-placed tree blocking the view of a darting child about to run into his path. It was totally slow-mo. As Jem ran, I screamed (or maybe we all did), the cyclist--despite his wearing headphones--stopped abruptly and went up on his front wheel...and Jem, unhurt but scared for the moment into stillness, staggered into my arms.

I don't think I realized, when I decided to have children young, that I would end up aging twice as quickly as a result.


Jem wants no assistance now as he teeters up onto the toilet seat, and now he's using the step-stool ON HIS OWN when he needs to go. I'm crossing my fingers, I know that everything can change, but it is really really pleasant to be the mother of two children who generally use the toilet without me having to give it major thought.

(And to those of you who think that I think about potties and bodily functions way too often, i.e. younger brothers: All I can say is, watch out! This is what you turn into. Practice safe sex. Pursue fulfilling careers. And play lots of sports.)

The only thing suffering as a result of all this potty independance is the potty itself. It requires an hourly wipe-down, without which it becomes unspeakably gross.

Really, humans were meant to pee into nearby foliage, not into self-emptying buckets of fresh drinking water requiring careful aim. So it's not exactly Jem's fault.


On my gravestone, I will be known as The Woman Who Said OKAY.

"OKAY," I say, when we're about to do something. I use a motivational tone. "We're ALL SET!! Let's GO." This usually accomplishes nothing in terms of whatever I'm trying to get my crew to do--leave the house, enter the car, walk down the road.

But I can't stop saying it, because it's a habit--just like, Jeff reminds me, Kanga in Winnie The Pooh: "Just one more jump, dear, and then we must go home!....Now Roo, dear...Just one more jump, Roo, dear, and then we really must be going....Roo, dear..." That's me, the never ending looped mama recording.

"All DET," Jem now says, whenever he's got his shoes on, or gotten up onto the toilet, or finished eating. "All DET!"


By the way: Jem, when given the multiple choice test, answers that he is not a baby now, but a "kig."


You might think, to look at it, that Jem had been clubbed in the ankle. But it's just that he gets this awful, swelled-up reaction to bug bites. They itch him like crazy.

Last week, he had a stomach pain, and I said sympathetically, "Oh, it's your tummy, isn't it?" Now, every time something hurts or feels uncomfortable, that's what he says. Right now his ankle is really feeling "Tummy."


One more anniversary: twelve years ago yesterday, I arrived at the Oregon coast on my bicycle, after having ridden 4000+ miles. Not sure what to think--either about my having done that then, or that now it's been twelve years since I did.


Now it's 90f, and all of our dear friends have gone home, and all the adult members of our household want to do is go to a nice, air-conditioned movie. Any babysitters out there??

Ah well...I do know that sometime within the next eighteen years, Jeff and I will be going to movies again. (I mean, Ruth and Terry do all the time.) Keep us in mind if you have any recommendations for our list of future viewing.


It's off to the pond, which Ben wants me to mention in this week's update. He is very shy about water, although he's just starting to hold his breath while he dips just past his chin. I think he wishes something similar to what I wished at his age: that I could take a pill, and suddenly know how to swim without practicing, and _definitely_ without putting my face in.