Sunday, June 29, 2008

In a Jam

Yesterday I hosted a Nia jam at my YMCA. I taught with three other teachers, Sue, Meredythe and Lisa, which is a good thing because a jam lasts for two hours. Several people whom I told about the jam said "TWO HOURS?!?" and that was their only response. But we do pace ourselves, and Lisa did the most amazing meditation at the end where we lay in the dark and imagined we were an animal. (I was a deer. I don't know why. She said to pick the first one you thought of and I didn't want to cheat.)

Because I'm a masochist, or maybe because I'm only motivated by extreme fear of failure, I decided to debut all-new choreography for the jam. That's right, never before seen in public. I'm not ambivalent about tempting failure. I chose six songs, just because I liked them and they fit the category "Has a beat. You can dance to it." Here they are:

"Fever" by Peggy Lee
"Hit The Road, Jack" by Ray Charles (this was a cover by Shirley Horn)
"Whatever Lola Wants" by Verve (re-mix from Damn Yankees)
"Hip Hip Chin Chin" by Club des Belugas
"Boom! (She's Hot)" by Flight of the Conchords
"Slippery People" by The Talking Heads

I chose these songs a while back, and David made me a CD about a week ago, but I decided to do the bulk of my choreographing the day of the jam. Why? Because I'm just that kind of idiot. Saturday morning I sent David and Jarrah off to the Children's Museum and I danced from 10:00 to 1:00. When they got home with lunch, I moaned, "I think I might have made a mistake." The mistake in question was dancing for three hours in bare feet on a hardwood floor when you then have to dance two more hours and make it count. Whoops.

We had about 20 people in the room--I would have liked more but 2:30 is a weird time--and everyone seemed to be having fun. I was stoked because my friend Mary came down from Encinitas, and my friend Jill from Jarrah's preschool was trying it out for the first time. I think she's a little smitten now, which makes me happy, because often after my friends try Nia they say in a high-pitched voice: "That was interesting!"

I was surprised and pleased that I hardly forgot any of my choreography, and I covered pretty damn well when I did. The one place I felt it flagging a little was on "Hip Hip Chin Chin," but that sucker is long and I was getting burnt out practicing it, so it might have been a bit repetitive. I got some delighted laughs on "Lola" because it's a tango and I had them doing all this passionate mock-tango stuff like covering their eyes with their elbows.

And I enjoyed myself when I wasn't teaching. The other gals brought some great music and I couldn't resist dancing right through despite my overly-dancey day.

Afterwards, I had to hurry home and make myself pretty for a girls night out, and I told David that my feet felt like meat. I'm surprised they have already bounced back today. I had a wicked headache this morning (despite only one glass of wine last night) so I think I'll be replacing a lot of electrolytes today.

And here's an unrelated question: Just found out that July's NaBloPoMo theme is "Food." I'm sorely tempted. Should I do it???

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I read this somewhere:

"Toddlers will most resemble the spawn of Satan around their half-birthdays. The same toddler who was sweeter n' cream at 2, 3 and 4, may behave like a rampaging Chucky doll at 2 1/2, 3 1/2 and 4 1/2."

Maybe I'm paraphrasing a little.

Anyway, Jarrah will be 3 1/2 in two days, and for the past six months, she's been pretty reasonable. Reasonable in the sense that she can be bribed and blackmailed with alacrity, and sometimes does what I say as if it's her own idea. I've started getting a bit smug, to tell you the truth. "Well," I opine, "the Terrible Twos were accurately named, but Three is a breeze. Three is a spa day. Either that, or I'm a kick-ass mom. Yeah, it's probably the latter."

Not so much, after the last couple of days. As you may have read, Jarrah has been sick and potty-training. Big stuff. But the potty party is going well, and she seemed totally better as of Monday evening, so were did it all go wrong?

I'll tell you where. On top of the refrigerator. Where the gummy bears live. Those scrumptious, rubbery little ursine treats. Maybe THEY are the spawn of the devil.

Tuesday afternoon Jarrah woke up from her nap said:

"I want gummy bear."

"Sure," I said. I'm just awesome like that. "Right after you wash your hands."

"GAAAAAHHHHH! WAAAAAAAAHHHHH! [loop endlessly, with a drop, roll and scream combination]

"Okay. I guess you don't really want one."

I walked out of the room and started sweeping the kitchen (see what I have to resort to?) because this kind of thing happens, and then it blows over in about 10 seconds when she realizes she doesn't have an audience anymore. I waited. I did the dishes. I folded some laundry. I called a friend. We were going on 30 minutes now, and not only wasn't it stopping, she'd added what my opera teacher used to call her "whistle register."

I peeked around the corner. She was still rolling and screaming, and now blubbering "You're not my best friend! You're not my best friend!" I'm so sure!

I picked her up and carried her to the rocker, and rubbed her back until the noise stopped. You might think I should have done that right away, but seriously, I've never needed to before. When she was herself again, we had a long talk about her Right to Bear gummy bears and how you don't see Mommy and Daddy rolling and screaming when we don't immediately get what we want. (We do it, of course, but only when she's not looking.) She seemed to get it in a worldly-wise kind of way, and once again I chalked it up to my mad parenting skillz.

Today she asked for a gummy bear before her nap. "Sure," I said, and gave her one. After her nap, she awoke with the following on her lips:

"You promised me a gummy bear."

"I don't think I did. And I gave you one already."

"NO!!!! No, no, no, no, no." She started rolling and sobbing in her bed. I said:

"I guess I'll come back when you calm down."

I listened to her screech and wail for nearly a half an hour. I called David. I needed to do something. Every time I looked in on her, she shrieked, "I WANT GUMMY BEAR! I WANT GUMMY BEAR NOW!"

"You know what?" I said, finally. "I don't like what gummy bears do to you. I'm throwing them away." And I did, accompanied by screeches that suggested a bunch of horsemen were headed our way.

When I couldn't stand it anymore and picked her up, she spent the next 10 minutes sobbing into my shoulder, repeating "GOO-MEE BAY-UH...GOO-ME BAY-UH..." while I laughed silently into her hair. And then, the refrain suddenly changed, "POP-SICK-UH INSTEAD! POP-SICK-UH INSTEAD!"

"Can you ask nicely?" I whispered in her ear.

"May I have a popsicle, please?" she asked in her TOTALLY NORMAL EVERYDAY VOICE.

"Is there something you'd like to say to me first?"

"Mommy, I'm sorry for making you crazy."

So, I ask you: is my child going over to the Half-Year dark side? Or does she just have a gummy monkey on her back?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Me a Nice, Quiet Room at a Rehab Facility Now

It's been over two weeks since school let out, and despite my worries that we'd be twiddling our thumbs until camp started, the events have been myriad and sundry.

Here's a partial list:

1. Children's Museum and pancakes with Grace and Jules
2. Animal Crackers (play group) in Point Loma
3. Laguna Beach for Father's Day with my family
4. UTC for shopping and choo-choo with Caroline and the boys
5. Kung Fu Panda
6. Dominic's birthday party
7. Julianna's dance recital (hip hop)
8. Joy's dance recital (ballet)
9. Pacific Beach with Jessica and Yea-Yea
10. My Kid's Clubhouse with Jessica and Yea-Yea
11. Vietnamese lunch for Melissa's birthday
12. A morning of preschool friends and their moms at my house, followed by intensive Play-Doh removal

And that's not even counting adults-only fare like a play, a baby shower, an incredibly dirty comedy show called "Three Women in One Night," or David's and my first-ever Norwegian movie.

So, Readers, you might agree that I've been pretty occupied. But that's only the beginning, you see. And much as I hate to talk about this stuff in my blog (I always imagine it coming back to bite me in the ass in the not-so-distant future) I must add a fire-breathing chimera to the proceedings when I tell you that, exactly two weeks ago, IT also happened. The thing that dare not speak its name. The thing that has been filling me with dread, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy for over a year.

Potty training. See, my girl has been a lot like Bartleby the Scrivener up to now. She just prefers not to. Oh, she understands the whole business, sure. It's no mystery. But it's a lot of trouble and who can be bothered, when mommy's so good at what she does? And that's where we've been for a year.

Saturday morning, the morning after the preschool gala, she woke up and announced she'd be wearing her Dora underpants today.

"Until you get dressed," I amended.

"No," she said firmly. "All day."

"All day?" I queried in a high-pitched voice. "Do you know what that means? It means you'll have to use the potty wherever we go."

"Yeah." she said.

And that was it. We didn't stay home, she didn't go naked, she moved straight to the big potty, she even scorned her Dora seat insert. Within a few days, she was jonesing for every public commode in town. It was X-treme Potty, nothing but net, and whether we were home or out, she took care of business like it was a total yawn. Meanwhile, I was a total wreck, but trying to keep it all inside. Come to think of it, that's my normal state of being. But this time I could not shake an imagined future where I was mopping up piles of waste in the middle of a crowd.

I didn't have long to wait. Soon, the "accidents" started. She'd be busy playing or doing something, and suddenly she'd look like a deer in the headlights and let's just say Dora ended up in the garbage. The rest of the time she was, shall we say, anal retentive. I began to inwardly freak out more and more, until even my dreams were filled with accidents and their aftermath. Coincidentally, one week into this I attended a Potty 101 seminar through the Parent Connection, a plan I'd made months ago. The speaker gave me a few ideas for how to handle the varied terrain of my new reality. It was important that I not transfer my treasure chest of neuroses to my child all in one go--no, some of it can wait for her teenage years. But what a Herculean challenge for me.

Some of you veteran moms are probably shaking your heads in a "Oh, that Sam, always with the exaggerating!" kind of way. But I am not exaggerating. I was obsessed, in the silent, stalkerish, menacing looks from behind doors kind of way. Everyone said it wouldn't last, and I hoped with every fiber of my being that they were not being merely statistical. Lo, we have had some, ahem, breakthroughs in the past couple of days, and not a moment too soon for my fragile emotional state. (See what this kid has to deal with?)

So you can see that, not only were we busy, but every moment of every day was fraught with the possibility of peril. Dramatic enough for you? Let me add this:

The day before we were to return to our normal lives (i.e. Jarrah starting camp) she wakes up with a 103 fever. No other symptoms. Just this crazy fever, that just kept getting worse and worse until last night when David and I were turning in, she was soaking wet and 105. I barely slept all night. Checking the internet did NOT help. I had diagnosed her with meningitis, bacteria in the blood, jungle fever and an expanding brain mass by 1:00 a.m. It was a restful night. (She, conversely, never woke up, despite someone poking a stick in her ear every couple of hours.)

This morning, instead of Camp, Glorious Camp (that's actually its name) I made the long trek to Encinitas to get Jarrah "seen." We were late (I don't know how, except that it's like a million miles away) and then we sat in the waiting room for nearly an hour. ("Where is the doctor?" Jarrah asked. "She's behind," I said. The look on her face suggested this was not enough information.) Most of that time, Jarrah was huddled in my arms, keening softly and smoking hot. I was so relieved when they called "ja-RAH!"

After another long wait, the doc (new to us, but I liked her) asked us for a urine sample. "Is she potty-trained?" "Mostly," I said, feeling like an impostor. ("What!" my inner voice shouted. "It's true!") "Well, best of luck to ya," the doctor grinned, motioning us towards the room with the cups.

Readers, I can tell you all about that room. You know why? Because I visited it SIXTEEN TIMES in two hours. Guess how many of those times she produced? (Picture a full moon.) I was sweating. I was hungry. Jarrah was hungry, and feverish, and probably thinking I was totally cuckoo. We traipsed to and fro from exam room to bathroom to another exam room (when, invariably, we'd come back to our post and find it occupied.) I hunched at her knees, commanding, "Pee. Now!" while pressing a sippy cup to her unwilling lips. "Drink. More! More!" Can we say, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Potty Training...In Opposite World?"

Sometimes she'd cry, big, silent tears rolling down her face. I felt like gum on the sole of my shoe. She's sick, after all. She should be bundled up at home, watching Dora and sipping juice boxes. Not having a staring contest with a wild-eyed, wild-haired woman clutching a cup near her personal bits. Finally, I gave up. I called David, who offered to meet us for lunch (love that man) and suggested we could return with a specimen after that. I told him we'd meet him in Michael's, which is next door and always fun for a browse.

We'd been in Michael's about three minutes when Jarrah announced, "I have to go potty!" "Okay!" I shouted. I felt like I was on some sort of military mission. I raced her around the store until we found the door. Locked, with one of those computerized key pads. Must find someone with code. I ran up to a lady in the red smock, Jarrah trailing at a distance. "Can we get the bathroom code?" "I'll have to punch it in for you, for security reasons," she said (what, do they store shipments of heroin in there?) "I'll be there in a little while."

GAH! Oh no, oh no, oh no, I repeated, only not out loud, since I was dragging Jarrah behind me. Miraculously, Red Smock reached the door shortly after we did. "Crap," she said. "Wrong code." Find it, find it, find it, I chanted inwardly, and then burst through the door when she finally did. We ran into the big stall, and I told Jarrah to prepare while I found the cup. She was poised for action, and I was peeling the wrapper off, and then...SHE WENT. She just went, without waiting for my signal, and there she was spilling a precious resource that I HAD TO HAVE.


Jarrah stared at me, and kept doing what she was doing. It felt like a thousand years had passed, but I thrust the cup under and suddenly it was half full. I fell to my knees in gratitude. "Thank you," I panted. "Thank you, and I'm sorry for yelling."

Suddenly, the silence was deafening. Jarrah was staring at me like she'd never seen me before. Then came the sobs, big, heaving ones that let me know I'd really screwed this up. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" I begged. "Please don't cry! Mommy shouldn't have gotten so upset! I just really needed this pee!"

That sounded odd when I heard it out loud. At this point, we'd made it out of the stall, and were standing near the sink. Jarrah leaned over and opened both taps all the way, and the water ricocheted off the basin and whacked us both in the face. I stood there with my face and shirt dripping and looked at Jarrah, who was also wet and looking very surprised.

And then, Readers, I laughed. I cracked up. I stood there and cracked up for about a minute because it seemed like a better idea than crying. And it was. I was starving, sweating, soaked, bone-tired, guilty and clutching a cup of pee in a high-security bathroom in Michael's Crafts, but it was going to end.

And it did. David showed up, we dropped off the sample, we waited some more, the doctor came and gave us the all-clear. Eventually, we got some lunch (it was close to 3:00 then) and made it home. Jarrah seemed a little better, in fact, by the time we left. When the doctor seemed surprised by the addition of David, Jarrah helped her out: "He's her husband," she explained, pointing at me. We all laughed. High-five on the sweet use of pronouns, too!

I've reached the end of my story. And now I want something from you, Dear Readers. Either find me a nice, quiet padded cell to recover from this two weeks in, or offer me some "been there, done that" sympathy. Please?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Leg Four: Cambridge & Boston

Because our 7th anniversary is on the 27th, I can't bear the idea of spending that day traveling. So I persuade David that one more day in Boston would be relaxing.

Before leaving town, we have breakfast at Sylvester's in downtown Northampton, which is simply a requirement. The restaurant has been around 20-something years, but the building was the 19th century home of Dr. Sylvester Graham, of graham cracker fame. He was a crazy old quack, but his namesake cafe serves the most amazing apple pancakes and turkey sausage. The meal does not disappoint. It's weird to be there with Jarrah--in my mid-'20s, I breakfasted there three or four times a week--just me and the newspaper. I think it might be the only place I've ever been a regular.

It's a gorgeous day for the 90 mile drive to Boston, except that a certain someone is over it (she keeps asking what time our plane is leaving) and freaks out when I refuse to turn off the K-Tel Hits of the '80s CD I'd received from our reunion committee. She wails and shrieks for nearly two hours. I'd hate to see how she'd react to disco!

We're staying in the Harvard Square Hotel in Cambridge, and indeed, it is smack in the middle of Harvard Square, across the street from the Charles Hotel, the super-swank lodging where I had one of my best temp jobs ever. The hotel is clean and functional, and our room includes a queen and a twin and a partial view of the hustle and bustle below. I would definitely stay there again--I didn't see anything remotely near the price in such a prime location, and there are yummy Bath and Bodyworks products that I promptly stuff into my suitcase.

It's hard to convince Jarrah to leave the room after she discovers the mini-fridge--when we check out, I find most of her toys frozen solid inside. But Boston awaits, and armed with our 7-day "T" passes (we'd purchased them at the front end--aren't we smart?) and traveling light, we head to the Public Garden and a ride on the famous Swan Boats.

When we emerge from underground, the sky is looking dangerous. Trying to stay optimistic, we grab a to-go snack (we'd skipped lunch) and head towards the center of the park. Now the sky is steel gray and the drooping trees whip around. As we approach the pond, we see the boats, lashed together and out of service, and a small crowd gathering under the boathouse awning, where we quickly join them. Readers, good thing we brought snacks, because a minute or two later, the sky splits like a ripped sail and the rain slams down, drumming across the pond, the paths, the bridges, and blowing us to the center of the shelter. A crack of thunder follows that sends Jarrah's fingernails into my thigh, where they remain for the next 15 minutes or so. When it becomes clear that leaving would mean being drenched to the skin all the way back to Cambridge (we have no umbrellas or jackets) we stay put, enjoying the center of a New England moment. About an hour later, as New England storms do, the sky lightens, the rain tip-toes away, and the sun comes out like a furtive apology. We stroll the park as before, only now Jarrah had knee-deep puddles to slosh through, especially when I ask her not to.

We reach the Make Way for Ducklings sculptures, exciting for Jarrah, and for me, because when I first saw them in the late '80s, I didn't know the book. Jarrah and I crack up every time one of us says "Pack, Lack, Mack, Ouack and Quack" so there is a lot of that. We walk across Boston Common, the gold cupola of the Statehouse winking in the late-afternoon sun. Then we enter the T at Park St. to head back to Cambridge.

One stop before Harvard, the doors stay open and the announcements about delays at Downtown Crossing begin. Time ticks by, and commuter crowds pack us closer and closer together in the center of the car. Finally, I wig (I'm seriously claustrophobic) and command David and Jarrah out of the train. I promise that we are a very short walk from Harvard Square, where we're meeting Sue and Andrew for dinner. (They're so sweet, driving in to have a goodbye dinner with us.) It's actually a 20 minute walk, more like 30 with Jarrah. Did I mention we did this entire trip with no stroller? Which meant David's shoulders got a frequent work-out. We start hoofing it towards Harvard (arguing because we can't figure out if we're going the right way--the GPS has become the new signifier for the lost tourist, replacing the map) and after about 10 minutes of walking, the sky opens up again and we continue our walk in the driving rain. Jarrah, amazingly, doesn't complain, and I attempt to be brave, but you know you're wet when it's 85 degrees outside and you're shivering. Rain sheets down my face into my eyes, nose and mouth, and my new shoes squelch with every step.

Finally, we reach Bertucci's, where Sue and Andrew have been waiting, and a blast of A/C greets us as we come through the door. Brrrrrrr. Luckily, our hotel is across the street, so I hightail it back to the room, grab clothes for David and Jarrah, and return under an umbrella. Sue is much less of a baby then me--they'd also gotten drenched, and she doesn't complain.

But oh, the joy when I return, cozy and dry and enveloped by clouds of garlicky air! Bertucci's is a pizza chain, but it totally rocks. Even the rolls and dip while you wait inspire swooning. The pizza is audaciously good, and the toppings extensive, like roasted garlic and caramelized onions. I have a glass of pinot grigio and within minutes am feeling no pain. It is a perfect anniversary dinner, and Jarrah is over the moon when she sees Friend again. They paint themselves with flour and oil and shriek a lot, and the three adults are left to our own devices.

After dinner, Sue reveals the secret of L.A. Burdick's, a famous handmade chocolate shop--so famous that I've seen their truffle mice in In Style magazine. Their signature item is pure melted hot chocolate that is served almost like a shot, though I savor mine in small sips so my pleasure sensors don't go haywire. We also try the teeny-tiny hamburgers that are actually different flavors of the fluffiest meringue with mousse fillings of chocolate, lavender, lemon and more.

It's hard to let them go, and also sad to realize--strolling through the busy streets to their car--that this is our only perfect summer evening in Harvard Square, and tomorrow at this time we'll be on our way home. Where did the time go? We slip into the Harvard Coop, which has the most amazing children's book section, but a certain, ahem, potty emergency sends us scurrying back to the hotel room by 9:00 p.m. Such is the life of toddler parents.

The next morning is sunny with a light wind, perfect strolling weather, and we walk to the the giant Au Bon Pain across from Harvard. This is a Boston chain with the most delectable baguette sandwiches and French pastries. We eat a simple carb breakfast that couldn't be more divine, and admit to each other that we're getting a little tired of elaborate meals on the road. Next we walk to the Curious George bookshop, co-founded with series author Margaret Rey, and Jarrah has to be dragged away when realize we have to pack up and check out if we're going to have any more adventures before the airport.

The bad news is we need a place to park the car (and a whole bunch of luggage.) David has the idea to drive out to Cambridge Place, a mall that was known as Lechmere in my day (can you see why they might have wanted to change the name?) because they had a parking garage. Lechmere is also walking distance from the Science Museum, which means we can hopefully get on the Duck Tour, which we've been trying to do since our Marshfield leg. Packed tightly into our Escort, we depart Harvard Square.

We hurry over to the Duck Tour stop, and Jarrah and I wait with a passel of school groups for David to return with the news that they are all sold out until 5:00. Foiled again! Now we have a bunch of time on our hands, so we hop on the T and head back downtown. This time, the weather smiles on us, and we're able to get right on a Swan Boat for a leisurely turn around the Public Garden. It's very pretty, and again I wish we weren't going home. The Swan Boats are pretty cool because the driver actually peddles it with his feet, even though it seats about 20 people.

After that we are ready for lunch and look for a cafe on Newbury St., but apparently things have changed because we walk and walk and all we see are designer clothing boutiques and no food anywhere, which I guess makes sense because you can't eat if you are going to wear those clothes. Jarrah is getting cranky, so we hop back on the T to Lechmere.

Back at Lechmere (I just like saying that) we are really hungry now, and settle on the food court and some pretty decent Thai food. We carry our cardboard boxes out to a faux-lake at the back of the mall, which is really rather pleasant. Afterward, I send David to the Mac Store while Jarrah and I duck into H&M (we still don't have it in San Diego!) to try on heart sunglasses and gold hair ornaments, which we model with supermodel panache to the pounding music.

We dawdle, but Boston really has a remarkably convenient airport, and before we know it we're at our gate. Though we buy a bunch of Au Bon Pain goodies for our six-hour flight, it still doesn't feel like a decent dinner. Jarrah sleeps for nearly two hours, but it's so hard to get comfortable on planes these days--even for a three-year-old--that she wakes up crying with frustration at one point. After we get her settled on David's lap with a blankie and pillow, she sleeps most of the way to San Diego. I am pretty much glued to Life of Pi, but definitely feel very excited to sleep in my own bed.

Leg Three: Worthington & Northampton

It's very hard to leave my friends after our brunch at the Haymarket...all of us are dragging our feet. But some people need to get to the airport (I'm glad we don't) and it helps a little that we have another reunion to get to--with my friend Pam out in Worthington.

I wrote about Pam in an earlier post because she has recently published her first novel. We met at UMass and I try to visit her whenever I get back to the Pioneer Valley. The last time I saw her was five years ago.

Worthington is way out in the country, but I don't even know where, to be honest. I keep saying it's "off the grid" (which is totally not true.) Let's just say the buffalo could roam there. Pam and her husband Mark have an amazing lifestyle. They mostly work from home--she's an editor and he has a famous ceramics studio and school. They go to artists retreats and have beautiful, sweet children--a girl and a boy.

When we get to the house (I call it "the compound" because it has several buildings and lots of land) Jarrah notes the gang of kids watching a movie in the living room and squishes in between them without need of introduction. Pam and Mark have another family staying with them, and another (neighbors, bearing lasagna) joins us later. Jarrah spends nearly nine hours with six children, ages 8-12, and never once lets on that she is three. Oh, I think they have a fair idea, but no one makes an issue of it. Two of the girls fuss over her, sharing their toys and books and making her their special friend, and we barely see her the whole day. It really is amazing to observe the ways in which Jarrah is both social and independent. I would almost say that she's absolutely trusting of strangers, but only if they are shorter than adults. She craves the company of other children, watching them intently for cues about how to behave and what to care about. I guess I'll have to keep a close eye on her when she's a teenager.

This is what Pam's life is like. After we've been there a little while, chatting and eating popcorn (which Pam makes without the aid of anything but a jar of kernels and a stove) we hear about a gathering down the road (it's dirt, by the way) at "the neighbor's barn." Off we go, to discover a group of local folk gathered in a circle, playing the fiddle and guitar and having your basic hoe-down. Behind them is a big wooden table covered in pies and wheels of cheese that probably originated with a local cow. I wander outside and sit in a gazebo surrounded by fragrant vines and humming bees while the children roll down grassy slopes and shriek. I lay down in a hammock I find right outside the barn and listen to the music. Suddenly, I wake up, and no one has even tried to find me. When I tease Pam about her lifestyle, she smiles sweetly and says "It is pretty idyllic, I guess." That's an understatement.

After dinner, I coax Pam's son Amos, rumored to be a guitar prodigy, to play for us, and this leads to a full-fledged jam with Amos playing and singing (he truly is an 8-year-old wonder), his father on back-up guitar, and a friend on drums. The rest of us grab available drums and tambourines lying around, and when the call goes out for more singers, I timidly volunteer. (How many of you believe that "timidly" part?) It's a real high, especially on Jefferson Airplane's "Go Ask Alice," which I hadn't even realized I knew. Jarrah stands in the middle, at the piano, and I get such a thrill watching her concentrating on the sounds (we are amped and everything) before she presses a key or two in a determined way--she totally gets the idea of the jam, and even though the keys she chooses aren't quite harmonious, she's definitely understanding rhythm.

Suddenly, it's near 11:00, and we haven't even checked into our hotel. And we can't find our car keys. Worthington has no street lights, and outside it's the kind of dark that swallows everything but stars. I am actually circling our car and the yard with a headlamp, which would be even more comical if I wasn't so worried. They invite us to stay, but we still need those keys. Everyone is searching, inside and out, and at one point I actually open our two huge suitcases and pulled everything out, right down to the bottom, before experiencing a wave of absurdist fury with the thought, "What the hell are you doing? The keys are not going to be in the bottom of your suitcase! They'll be someplace totally obvious and you'll kick yourself later!"

And then I find the keys at the bottom of the suitcase. Jarrah is asleep before we turn around in the driveway. The new Hampton Inn in Hadley is sumptuous (the desk gal tells us it's "Number One in the country," and I am impressed, but David says "Number One of what?") Once we get settled, it's a really good sleep in their special white, fluffy beds with mountains of pillows.

Monday morning is our first (only?) day of the trip when we have absolutely nothing planned. It feels a bit odd, especially to Jarrah, who asks when we'll "see friends." "Today is just you, Mommy and Daddy. Does that sound good?" "No," she says. "I want to see friends." I love that toddler honesty!

We drive to South Deerfield to the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, which is an enclosed garden filled with 5,000 butterflies from all over the world. It's a cozy size (it has to be--South Deerfield is not exactly a metropolis) but clearly a tourist and school destination based on the capaciousness of the gift shop. There is a little museum, kind of cheesy, but containing the most precious little blue frogs you'd ever care to see, and a shop advertising over 20 flavors of soft serve (yummy, but hot in the cafe--Jarrah drops the top of hers within 30 seconds.) Then we pass through a sort of blowing tunnel (designed to remove "hitchhikers") into the atrium, and MAN! David's an amazing photographer, and some of these photos are incredible, but the full experience of standing or walking with dozens of butterflies around you at any given time cannot be photographed. It's so dense with the winged ones I am on the verge of getting skeeved out, but don't quite go there. I think David and I like it slightly more than Jarrah, since it does freak her out a bit to have things flying at her face, but she gets over her skittishness long enough to hold one.

On the way to South Deerfield, we pass two landmarks well-known in my day: the Yankee Candle Factory, which is now so corporate that they have shops in the malls here, and the sign for Bub's BBQ in Sunderland. The Yankee Candle Company seemed closer to a factory store in my day, with some decorations at holiday time, but now it's a full-blown theme park. For the uninitiated, Yankee Candle makes scented candles in about 300 flavors, some so realistic that you have to stop yourself from taking a bite. But I have a feeling Jarrah would not be too excited by me chiding "Don't touch that!" every two seconds, plus in the past the mixture of smells has put me over the edge, so we admire it from the road and keep on going, towards Hog Heaven.

That's kind of how they market Bub's. It's a little tin shack by the side of the road sort of operation, but now they've added summer seating outside (next to the extensive motorcycle parking) and it's just as good as I remember. There's a free juke box and a Southern buffet with each order of meat--lots of salads and beans and potatoes and rice and bread and all you can eat.

We head back down Route 116 and end up in the town of Amherst, which is kind of deserted on Memorial Day. It's nice to be back, though--I used to spend a lot of time there when I went to UMass. I point out the bookstore where I gave a poetry reading, and the green where some guy immolated himself as a protest against the Gulf War. We find a fabulous toy store and settle in for a bit while Jarrah plays. I take a little walk on my own, but it's hot and everything is closed.

After that I ask if we can just drive around--the roads between the Five Colleges form a sort of triangle, and the scenery is lovely, especially if you've grown acclimated to palm trees and cement. When we pass Atkins Farms, Jarrah asks if they have animals. "No, it's a Treat Farm. They grow treats. Want one?" I used to get fresh bread there, and really good fruit--now we get some pie and picnic outside. It's getting windy and looking like rain when we get back in the car. David wants to "try something" with the GPS and next thing we know, we're sort of lost, but not really. I marvel that we find some roads I've never been on. Jarrah falls asleep.

Back at the hotel, Jarrah and I head to the indoor pool. David follows. We have the place to ourselves. Suddenly, it's 7:00. We head back to Amherst to have dinner at Judie's, which is a place I'd loved for their apple butter and popovers bigger than your head. It's nostalgic to be there again, but Jarrah is cranky and restless, and the food doesn't seem as exciting as I remember, though the popovers are still incredible.

Back at the hotel, Jarrah is ready to sleep, and David and curl up in our bed with some Atkins Farms treats and downloaded series finales on the laptop. It's a peaceful evening. Tomorrow we'll head back to Boston.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Leg Two: Smith College Reunion


7:00 a.m. It's hard to leave both Marshfield and my family behind, but I'm also bursting with excitement for the weekend ahead. I haven't missed a reunion since graduation and I'm never disappointed, even when it rains the entire time like it did five years ago.

I take the commuter rail with David and Jarrah, who will be walking to the Children's Museum from South Station after they drop me off. I'll be hitching a ride to Northampton (about 90 miles) with my friend Kimie, whom I haven't seen in 10 years.

The plan goes without a hitch, and Kimie gets to chat with Jarrah and give her a Boston Red Sox bear before we sail away on the Mass Pike. I feel a twinge for leaving David as a single parent, but I adroitly put it out of my mind and focus on the moment. It is so wonderful to see Kimie, who's looking more beautiful than ever. I don't think we stop talking for one second during our drive--not sure if it's all the back story to cover, or the large iced coffee I got at the station. Either way, I am so happy to have her all to myself for two hours.

The cell phone, happily, starts ringing before we've even left Boston--how did we do reunions before them?--and we'll be meeting Re, who just flew in from Seattle, for lunch. We check in at Alumnae House and receive our house and room assignments, name tags, and a sash in our class color (blue) for the Ivy Parade the next morning. Our house is Washburn, part of the Green St. complex, and I've never been there. It's a little run-down compared to some of the palaces they call "houses," but I love it instantly because my window has a view of Seelye Hall, where I took most of my classes.

I feel a little insecure at first, because all of my friends are assigned doubles, and I'm in a single. This hearkens back to my early '20s, when I constantly worried that I was being left out of something. Luckily, I've had therapy, and about 5 minutes later I'm thinking, "Woohoo! My own room with a view for two whole days! I can stay up late reading and no one will wake me up in the morning." The room is cell-like, but I've brought an ambient sound machine and a super-plush bed throw. Instead of bolting awake every time I hear a noise in the hallway (weird how 20 years makes what was once normal, strange) or shivering under my thin, scratchy blanket, I snooze to the sound of ocean waves, snuggling what feels like a bed-sized bunny.

Kimie and I unpack, after running into Re and Patty (in from Portland, ME) and agreeing to meet them at the new student center. This running into people is one of my favorite parts of reunion. You don't just "run into" people at home. But at reunion there's a serendipity to what comes next, it all depends on who you "run into" and where they're going. I love it because I'm hardly ever spontaneous in my real life.

The new student center, just under way after our last reunion, has a lot to live up to, since I had a special bond with the old Davis Center that went beyond the simple perfection of their hamburgers and chocolate frappes (pronounced FRAPS in MA parlance.) I was a DJ upstairs, I went to dances there, I studied in the tiny wooden booths, I wondered mightily about the young dude who often made my sandwiches. Davis and I, we had a history.

But the new center is gorgeous, lots of glass, a salad bar, and a spacious room filled with orange furniture called...The Goldstein Lounge! All weekend, I point to the sign and say "Why do they keep bugging me for donations? I mean, haven't I done ENOUGH?" There's a cool new bookstore downstairs (latest t-shirt: "No, it's not a girl's school with no men, it's a women's college with no BOYS.") Kimie and I join Patty and Re and eat our Asian Fusian salad extravaganzas--I must confess mine is sort of gross. Bring back grilled cheese and chicken fingers! I am a bit shocked to see the soda machine--Smith was righteously against "soda on demand" at meals when I was there.

Further phone calls reveal that Claire is on her way from Boston, and Carolyn and Grace from New York City via Darien, CT. Kimie and I take a walk downtown and run into my friend Pam (more on her in Leg Three) which is a nice surprise. We crow over the shops that are still there after all these years, and the ones that have sprung up on Main St. without our permission (like Starbucks.) Back at the room, we get ready for our evening plans downtown and I suddenly hear "That's what Sam said..." from the stairwell. "And what did I say?" I smile, opening the door for Grace. I can see Carolyn bolt past her up the stairs, which seems odd and unfriendly. "That's not Carolyn," Kimie says matter-of-factly. "I believe it's Jacqui."

Jacqui is our friend from freshmen year--she lived in Lamont House with us, and was a senior at the time. Smith believes in all classes living together as a sort of mentoring system. I guess a lot of people would say Jacqui is "a character," but since that's already been said hundreds of times, I'll just say she's one of the funniest people I've ever met, and I could talk to her for hours. But it didn't make sense that she'd be here, since she's class of '85. We run up the stairs and yup, there she was, hoping to surprise us later. Surprise! I haven't talked to her in 10 years (sensing a theme here?) so it was just amazing to have her standing there when I hadn't had an inkling she'd been coming. Turns out Carolyn and Grace were in on it (makes sense--they drove her) and so we were all on our way to Packard's.

The fact that Kimie had the presence of mind to reserve the Library Room at Packard's is just too perfect. Packard's was the site of many a debauched evening during my nine years in the Happy Valley, too many to count or even remember. Some of the bad dates I described during NaBloPoMo even took place there. It's a dark, woody bar that serves excellent burgers. The Library Room is totally private and seats about 15, so we make a cozy crowd for several hours of drinking and noshing. After my strawberry margarita, I know I am talking a lot louder than strictly necessary, and I keep having these out-of-body flashes of awareness, like "The first time I came here was with these same people, 24 years ago. Am I different now? Am I really older?"

Afterwards, I am determined not to go home, but I guess we are older, because several of the gals beg off due to absurd things like jet lag or a wakeful baby back at home. I suggest Fitzwilly's, which makes everyone laugh because it's another institution, but not exactly cool--there's no music or "scene." But I just want a comfortable place to talk to my friends. We order dessert at the same table I had five years ago. By midnight, everyone is yawning copiously, though I am fighting it.

Back at Washburn, we flop in the living room awhile (Smith tradition--aimless hanging around when you should be studying or sleeping) and then repair to our rooms and that historical gathering place, the hall bathroom. It's not often as adults that you see your girlfriends in their pajamas, flossing their teeth. I kind of love it. I huddle in my bed, mind racing across the events of the day, and then drift into a deep sleep. Good thing, because it's an early start for the parade.


I wake bright and early to the sound of girls laughing in the hall. Not my friends, I know, since they've all warned me they'll be sleeping until the last minute. I shower and dress in my parade "whites," and head over to Tyler for breakfast. Back in the day, all Smith houses had their own dining room, but they've been consolidating in recent years. (Trivia: Tyler House has a swing in front featured in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) My new white flip-flops are killing me, and I end up limping back to Washburn to change. I emerge to a crowd near Seelye. In the Alumnae Parade, the classes proceed in order of chronology--at this reunion, the oldest class is 1933. There aren't many of them, but the class of 1938 is well-represented. Each class carries signs that pertain to their era--some are funny, some give me a lump in my throat. In any case, there isn't a dry eye in the house when the ladies march towards us as we line the path on both sides, getting younger and younger until it's our turn to join them. I used to enjoy this parade while feeling fairly disconnected from the hand of Father Time, but now it feels pretty personal. For one thing, we're not at the end anymore. And I can't help scrutinizing each year until I think they "all look pretty good" (about 1968) and then furiously console myself that's still 20 years of reunions away.

When we start marching, we don't go very far, just to a grouping of chairs on Burton Lawn around the corner, where we are greeted by someone from the Alumnae House. What follows is a "meeting" comprised mostly of a tally of which class has raised what amount of money. I am in a long line of my friends, sitting next to Patty. It's the only time I am alone with her. When we rise to sing the college anthem, it's not what I remember.

After, a group of us head back to the student center for lunch. I get to find out if the burgers are still as good as they were at Davis. (They are, but the fries are suffering.) After lunch, we browse the bookstore and run into more gals who lived with us freshmen year and then suddenly we are late for the Class of '88 meeting which can't be missed because Noriko and I are on the ballot for co-class secretary. Class secretary is responsible for writing the quarterly class column for the alumnae magazine, so it's an important job. We crash into the room a few minutes late, and Re whispers, "You just got voted in." So that's it--we miss the whole thing--but all four candidates are going to share the job.

After a quick nap, I knock on Grace's door (waking her up) and we head downtown. First, we stop in a new children's shop where I buy Jarrah a super-hero cape (a phase). Then we check out a used bookstore that I don't remember, either, and I buy Life of Pi, even though the description sounds like I would hate it (I don't.) Then we run into Jean, who'd arrived that morning, and spontaneously go for coffee at the Haymarket, a place that looks like a literal hole in the wall but has a huge, cave-like room under the ground. We have an intense discussion about having and raising children while I savor my very gingery molasses cookie, and I note that this kind of discussion was so common when I was at Smith--a group of women debating some heady issue into the wee hours over a pizza in the hallway or a coffee downtown. We stay until it's almost time for cocktail hour.

On the way up the hill, I get a voicemail from Carolyn, who says she's at the museum, and spur of the moment, we head there to meet her. It's almost closing, but there's a really cool mini-collection of Sandy Skoglund photos near the door that provides insta-fun. We end up in the gift shop, where the jewelry is both fabulous and expensive, before they boot us out. I make a note to come back the next day, but it never happens.

We lose Grace, somehow, but Kimie calls and says she's at Paradise Pond and do we want to come over? I persuade Carolyn we have time, and I get to spend some time alone with her during our walk. The sun is dappling through the lush trees as we stroll through campus, admiring the new and the familiar. The pond comes into view, striking in the late afternoon shadow. We sit on a stone bench overlooking the boathouse (we can see Kimie down below, chatting with Hilary) and marvel how this view never gets old. I remember the first time someone showed me Paradise Pond, I said: "Where I come from, we call this a lake." You can skate on it in winter, and in the spring you can check rowboats and canoes out of the boathouse.

David calls--they are trying to find us. I've concocted an elaborate plan for him to join us for dinner (with a very BRIEF opportunity for everyone to meet Jarrah) by signing her up for an evening of childcare provided by the reunion committee. Amazingly, it goes off without a hitch--Jarrah loves "camp," and David gets to enjoy an adult evening with a filet mignon dinner followed by an improv comedy show courtesy of "The Ha Ha Sisterhood." They are really good and very smart, and I'm impressed that an '88-er up and decided to do something really brave in her late '30s.

It's a lovely evening for Illumination, during which the campus is lit by hundreds of colorful Japanese lanterns. There's a jazz band, too. It occurs to me that the campus is very quiet because it's an "off" reunion--not on Commencement weekend, when all the seniors and their families would be here, too. Our 25th will be on Commencement weekend, and after two "off" I'm probably going to be a little shell-shocked. As it gets closer to 10:00, David goes to pick up Jarrah, who is thrilled to join us for a stroll. We want to get some coffee or a drink at the Student Center, but it's already closed. Back at Washburn, a bunch of us stand around talking about going downtown. We're diverted for a while by hide-and-seek with Jarrah. Carolyn is a particularly good hider, and Jarrah is loving her. It hurts my heart a little that I've never seen her with children before, even though her two boys are older than Jarrah. It's really weird how little we all see each other now, outside of reunions.

I head downtown with Grace, Kimie, Claire, Noriko and Jean, and not much seems to be open, even though it's Saturday night. But a new pizza place called Sam's says "Open 'til 3:00 a.m." so in we go. They have some pretty weird toppings (pulled pork?) but the slices are good and we really just want a place to sit down and hang out with a drink. We talk about family and school and religion and all the "big" topics that no Smith woman ever shies away from--we are not polite small-talkers, my Smith friends and me. I really miss that.

I'm back at Washburn before midnight, and the bathroom is already quiet. I brush my teeth in a pensive mood and read my book in bed to the sound of laughing women walking by my window. I feel a little ache already, knowing the time has already zoomed by faster than I could appreciate.


In the morning, I eat breakfast at Tyler with a gang of people, most of whom I don't know very well. It's weird to realize that I don't have that much desire to meet people at these events; I just want to focus on the ones I already know. The breakfast turns even weirder when a current rising senior takes the seat next to me and declaims for at least 10 minutes about how she calls the Northampton police on her roommates if they don't follow her "rules." She seems, as they say, "bats--- crazy," and I muse "That's funny, they didn't have crazy people when I was here." Then I remember that they did. And that I hung out with them.

There's some depressing packing (throwing everything in the room into my bag without looking at it) and some coming and going with suitcases and cars and concerns about flight times. We decide we all have time for brunch downtown, but not at Sylvester's, which has an hour wait. We go back to the Haymarket, and it's very good. David and Jarrah join us, as well as Claire's partner and their daughter. Jarrah wants to follow Carolyn everywhere, and is talking nonstop when I'm trying to hear my friends. I feel gloomy, like we are all facing a firing squad after this, even though the herbed scrambled eggs are perfect and everyone is laughing and talking a mile a minute.