Mostly, I’ve gotten used to Saturday nights with a book or some work, cooking for one, resigned myself to being the only person that feeds the cats and walks Sophie the Dog who Loves Summer.

I have teenagers.

It’s good they have friends and places to go and that, more often than not, friends parents to drive them. I’m grateful.

I enjoy nibbling on cereal while reading a book, skipping to the gym without a thought of what’s left in the oven, listening to the music really loud without someone pointing out that I’m a hypocrite because that someone is always asked to turn down his really loud music. I pay the mortgage, and I have better taste.

I’m prepared for what comes next- the leaving, the migration out into the world and the cost of college. (Emotionally, I’m think I’m prepared for the cost of college. Financially, not even close.)

Mostly.

But tonight there’s snow and wind and dire warnings from the weatherman.
I roasted a turkey and found the gloves and dusted off the shovel.
They haven’t been home.

I ate a leg while I played candy crush. I listened Hamilton- the new hip hop musical everyone’s talking about and read the reviews because I couldn’t decide how much I liked it.
A lot.

I miss them more than anything and as soon as one of them walks in the door I’ll say something about laundry or homework or why are you late because I’m mad they haven’t missed me at all.

I need to start writing a novel, take up adult coloring, (yeah, that’ll happen. I didn’t color when I was 3) or adopt a dog that likes cold weather.

A few flakes- my heart feels as hollow as the house.

This just in- They are on the way home.

Tomorrow, there will be pancakes and arguments about who loads the dishwasher.

Tonight, I’m going to let the clean clothes stay on the stairs and the boots stay in the hall.

It’s the first snowstorm of 2016 and they’re on their way home.

I’d make cocoa but I think that would scare them away, they respond to kind gestures like wild deer, they scatter out the backdoor or upstairs to their rooms with body language that reads- what do you want from me? It is not currently in my nature to spend time with you.

So I will just welcome them home, and brush their hair out of their eyes, and ask them if they’d like me to throw their clothes in the dryer.

Sometimes bad weather makes the world feel lonely, don’t you think?


Stay warm.

Tonight was all about dogs, daughters and dads.

I took Sophie the sweetest and a puppy named Gunner to Turners Pond for a ramble under the moon.

Katy and a friend followed behind, i don’t know if they agreed to come along because Katy is kind, and I spend a lot of time alone walking the dog. Or if the simple fact that the wind had stopped and the moonlit fooled her into thinking it was warmer than it was- I don’t know.

Ahead, the dogs and I ran, and slowed and sniffed (they sniffed, I watched them sniff and tried not to think about what they were sniffing) and ran and jogged and trotted and stopped.

I was listening to Neil Diamond.

I grew up listening to Neil Diamond. My dad died when I was 20, yet when I put the headphones in my ears, and put on Cracklin Rosie, and turned it UP, I could hear Dad’s voice, singing along. There was the most subtle hint of the South in his voice, and he stayed right on key.

So I walked around the pond five times. I was watching the dogs, running alongside the dogs, waiting for the dogs.

I was catching little pieces of Katy and her friend’s conversation. They are 12 year old girls and they do not giggle. At least not when I’m within earshot. I think they were discussing a science test, or how Katy never lets the power go below 1% on her phone, or what kind of dog they want when they grow up. Twelve year old girls, smart 12 year old girls, aren’t the most interesting subjects for eavesdropping.

Maybe they were speaking in code.

And right next to me, inside my head, was my dad. He was singing alongside Neil Diamond, and actually sounded better than the pop star. I was listening to one of more recent albums, way after Love on the Rocks.

I thought about switching to one of the records Dad and I used to listen to- Tap Root Manuscript, or Stones, so I could remember what Mr. Diamond sounded like in his prime.

But I wasn’t listening to “Solitary Man” or “Sweet Caroline”. I was remembering my dad’s voice, how he used to always sing “Something” by the Beatles in the shower leave records all over the dining room table, how proud he looked while he watched me play my flute and the night he spent four hours listening to the “Wild and Innocent and the EStreet Shuffle” in attempt to try to understand what I liked about Bruce Spring. “Julie, he can’t sing. I mean, really, he can’t sing.”

I hadn’t remembered my father’s voice for a long time until tonight.

Dogs, Daughters and Dad.

The last song I listened to was “Thank The Lord for the Night Time.” Dad always liked that song, I think it was pretty much his party anthem.

My wild nights are home with kids, or at the gym, or following Sophia around with a bag in my hand.

But I am my father’s daughter. I may go to bed early by his standards, but I never wake up until after dark.

That’s when I’m wide awake. That’s when I make time to listen.

Katy, my eleven year old, left for a ski weekend with some family friends tonight.

I dropped her off about nine pm. She packed her own bag. I remembered the toothbrush.

I got home and found the leash. I slipped the clip thru her collar and led Sophie The Sweet outside. I was surprised- she did not pause when she saw that the snow, and the sleet, and the sidewalks lined with sharp salt crystals- it was all still out there. Tonight, she led the way.

I’ve a head cold for weeks, tonight it felt like there was a spike stuck thru the middle of my forehead. I put on O. A. R. on Spotify. Snow started to fall. We walked down the middle of the street, Sophie and I. The flakes glowed in the dark and took their time on the way down. It was only 9:30 but the houses were dark, and the cars were all parked and cold in their driveways . It was our world, our black, white, and wet world. As my headache fell away, I turned up the music.

We went around the block about three times, which is a record for us. Lately, Sophie wonders everyday when we are going to move to Florida or at the very least, invest in a litter box the size of our guest bathroom.

I miss Katy, and I have the feeling that the next couple of years, I’m going to missing both my kids a lot.

At the same time, I hope there’s time for me to know them, in between games and tests and snapchats and swim meets and all of the stuff that has already started to pull them away.

I want to know what their favorite music is, and what they like to eat, and how much sleep they need and what makes them laugh. Because I think these things have begun to change and I know in many cases, I will be the last to know a lot, but I do want to know.

I hope I can send them away when it’s time, with grace and a little bit of me, but not too soon. And I hope I don’t try to hold on.

But that when I want to, I hope I know to find the leash, and to slip the the clip thru the collar.

I’ll wait for Sophie to gather herself and lead me outside.

And I’ll walk, and sing along to the music, and let time pass while I circle the block. And I”ll let time pass while Sophie and I circle the block without looking at my watch, or wishing that it would just stop.

Sophie prays

Maybe Ten Steps AWay

July 1, 2014

This is the weekend our next door neighbors finally packed up their things and moved. Well, that’s not true. They’ve been packing their things for three months now. I’ve been mourning their departure for about six months, when Thao first told me they had rented a home in Atlanta. So we’ve been saying good bye for a long, long time.

Saturday night, I took my daughter and the two girls that lived next door for so long up to Canobie Lake Park. I wanted to give them one last adventure together,and get them away from the boxes and the trash bags and all of the detritus that clutters a house that is being left. I let the older daughter bring a friend, as a bribe to get her to come too. It’s lonely at Canobie, with four pre-teen and teenage girls, all of whom would rather do anything than go on the chicken ride with me. But I brought a book. I had decided it was not my night to be a martyr, but to be a good mom and a great friend.

Thao, the mom, thinks she doesn’t speak very good English but I always understood what she was saying. We worried about our children together, while I stood in her beautiful kitchen with the shiniest floors in the world. She loves bananas and etsy and beautiful clothes. She has a smile so big I would laugh whenever she smiled at me.

Tue is the youngest. She grew up with Katy. They made videos of themselves dancing along to pop songs, and I’d watch them tonight, but then I will not only miss the Vo’s but the two little girls that aren’t so little any more. Tue is crazy smart. She told me yesterday that she is concerned today’s youth are becoming too disconnected from the world. I’m glad she’s one of today’s youth, she gives me hope.

Thanh is older, she’s in my son Colin’s grade. She is level headed, and kind, and hates fruit with an intensity most people save for brussels sprouts or really bad winters. She used to be shy and nervous. I remember once taking her with my family to Scream Fest, and spending the evening walking around looking for something that didn’t look very scary. I think I ate a lot o junk food that night. Now she is self possessed and graceful. If she is still nervous, I think it’s mostly about being made to eat fruit. And since it is unlikely she will ever find herself in a situation where that happens, I think she’ll be fine. Better than fine. Thanh is and will be amazing.

I never knew their Dad’s name until yesterday. It’s Hue, though I’m sure I spelled it wrong. He would show up at our door with huge bowls of noodle soup, or massive slivers of cake, or platters of shiny chicken wings. He is the only man I know that looks good in red pants. He loves his family.

And Coco. Coco was their little mini pinscher. Coco is a mean, nasty, yappy little dog and Coco probably loves me better than anyone. Ever. Than my mom even. Being loved like that feels really good, even when he’s trying to jam his sharp toothed little head into my mouth.

There is much more to say. But I’m going to let it be tonight. In life there is love and change and loss. And there is the blessing of truly getting to know another family, and the thousands of memories they have given us over the years.

Tonight, after we had said our goodbyes, my daughter grabbed me by the hand. She said- “Come on, Mom, we have to go stand by the drive way and wave good bye.

I had, like I mentioned, laundry to put away. So many phone calls to make. An online test I need to complete for my job. A library book that needed finding, and a dishwasher that needed loading.

But I followed her outside. We stood at the front of the house,by the porch that Katy and Tue played in all winter long. I’m really not sure what they did in there, just that it involved boxes and plastic dolls and a chalkboard. We waited in the twilight, on the stoop, next to an abandoned coffee cup. Ten minutes went by. I got impatient, all that damned stuff pressing down like a thousand heavy boxes on me. “We’re waiting, Mom.”

We got bit by mosquitos. We talked about books and camp and being nicer to her older brother. I think I saw a bat.

And when they pulled out, we waved goodbye and we smiled and we told them good luck.

And then we walked home in the dark. But it wasn’t far. Ten steps maybe. They were as close to us as neighbors can be. And really, really, really wonderful friends.

It’s the middle of December. This is the time of year, more than any other, when money weighs heavy on my family. We can’t afford to sign the kids up for ski lessons, we have eggs for dinner not because breakfast for dinner is a lovely novelty but because it’s a cheap meal. I throw out the mountains of flyers in the Sunday paper because looking at all the wonderful gifts we can’t afford is depressing. We aren’t poor, for God sakes my kids do not suffer because they can’t fly down a mountain on a few carefully crafted pieces of plexiglass. And we like eggs. But sometimes it feels that way. Our town is made up a lot of people who shop for sport and go to Aspen to snowboard.

The other morning, I woke up way too early. Too much on mind, not much I could do about it. The day was spent, and I’m kind so I’ll make this brief, struggling thru a yoga class before the sun was even up, driving twenty miles to a mall to try to replace a broken phone even though, and I heard this five times in the course of my time there, I wasn’t due for an upgrade. Next, I burned another twenty dollars of gas racing to work. I am employed at a local college where I also attend classes. A few emails, a brief review of what I needed to know for my finals next week, and then I raced back home to deal with dogs that needed walking, kids that needed feeding, and a mountain of half damp laundry in a dryer that hasn’t worked that well for years.

It was a long day. By the time the dishes had been cleared, and my notes reviewed, and the dogs sent to the back yard for too little exercise but a chance to shriek at anyone with the good fortune to pass by, I was weary.(Yoga at 5:45 is a lovely idea in theory, but I should really only indulge if I have time to nap in the afternoon.) Our tree was standing in the corner. It smelled good, but none of the lights worked, so the rest was going to have to wait for a trip to Ocean State Job Lot on the weekend.

I went next door to say hello to our neighbors. I walk their dog. They look after my daughter when I’m working late. In a month or two, or if we are lucky, three, they are moving across town. I’ve known this for weeks. I didn’t really know it until last night.

This is a family that is very different from our own. They are from another country. The mom is young and beautiful, I think she used to model. She sells fine jewelry on ebay. I am older and attractive if I work at it really hard and the lighting is good, but I never photograph well. I don’t wear earrings any more because I always loose one, and I’m not stylish enough to pull off asymmetrical jewelry.

Her daughters are a little bit older than my little girl. They have more than one pair of Uggs. They have impeccable manners and always call me Miss Julie. They take off their shoes when they come over and they like my popcorn. They laugh at my jokes but that might be because they are really polite. Watching them grow up has been one of my favorite things.

We are very, very different. Yet, in the course of being neighbors for ten years, I eat cereal out of a bowl that belongs to them. She sips coffee out of one of our mugs. She notices when I lose weight, I can tell when she hasn’t slept well. I went over to their house the other night at eleven pm to borrow a belt from her husband because my son needed to wear one to school in the morning. He got out of bed, found the belt, and told me to keep it.

I don’t know them that well, and I know them better than my friends. I know they like to sleep really late on the weekends, and that she loves her leopard slippers. Her daughters have danced around my living room and my son has cleaned their garage. I know them because they are in our lives and have been in our lives almost every day for a very long time. And even though I don’t always understand what my next door neighbor says, and I know she sometimes thinks I talk too fast, we have chosen each other as family.

At end of my long, long, day, I chose to visit the family next door. It’s the holiday season and I think they must miss their home, far, far away, and their family, on the other side of the world. After our brief visits, to talk about kids, to take their dog for a walk, to borrow a stick of butter, I always feel better just knowing they live right next door.

When I got home, I realized that all of the boxes in the kitchen weren’t parcels from online shopping. That in a month or two or three, they will be gone. They will live on the other side of town. We will see each other in the drug store, or at the school for a Christmas concert. But how much can we say when we aren’t standing in each others kitchen, at the end of the day, and really listening thru all of the barriers language leaves between people from different sides of the world?

All of the stuff that had weighed me down heavier than a thousand rocks fell away, and I started missing my family of friends while they got ready for bed next door. My son came down stairs and put my head on his shoulder, and promised me that we would always stay in touch with the Vo’s.

The tree is decorated now. And Katy is outside playing in the snow with her very best friend in the whole world. And I will ask her mom tonight, when I visit her kitchen, if her daughter can sleep over again.

This may be their last Christmas as neighbors, but it won’t be our last Christmas as friends. My son promised.

Missing

July 11, 2013

It was a tough day. Lost library book.  Hot. Fight with Colin, my son, about  what I know now was absolutely nothing. Three hours ago it seemed important while I sat on my stairs and weighed punishments.

Each disagreement we have now that he is heading toward his thirteen year is dark with danger – is this the moment he stops liking me? Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity to establish important policy. (There are repercussions for not leaving a note, for taking five dollars from my purse, for teasing his sister.) Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity for me to prove myself to be an inflexible ass. (He did call my cell, I’d told him I’d give him a few dollars, and what twelve year old boy doesn’t tease his sister.)

So I removed myself, and his sister, from the battlefield. It is July, there is a pool less than a mile away, and it is open from 6 until 7:45 every week night.

Katy and I swam. I did laps, she chased behind me and grabbed my toes when she could. I taught her the words to a song that begins “There once was a farmer who took a young miss”. I got irritated when she fell behind on our way to the car. She wasn’t happy when I denied her movie request. It was a wonderful, normal summertime night.

When we got home, the lights were out. I called for Colin. No answer. I fed the animals, I reminded Katy that we were not going to add a hamster to our menagerie until I was not the only one feeding the animals.

I called for Colin. It was dark. There wasn’t a note. Most nights, I would have just taken the dog to the park to remind him of the time. But he and I had been arguing. He wouldn’t have gone to the park.

I checked the phone for incoming calls, a telemarketer called from Seattle at 7:30. I checked the phone for outgoing calls. He’d called a friend at 5:15.

I went to the park. It was dark. It was quiet. There was a teenager smoking by the batting cage. The teenager said no one had been there for at least an hour.

I texted the moms of his friends. “Looking for Colin. Heard from him?” I didn’t want to panic anyone, or look like an idiot when he strolled in dribbling his basketball. I don’t like it when he bounces that damn ball in the house. I looked for the ball, couldn’t find it. No word from Colin

I called one of the moms, and kept my tone light. She volunteered to come pick me up, take me out so we could look for him together. I made a joke about not being ready to be “one of those moms”, but if I’d known her better, I would have said yes.

When he’s nervous, everything that he says sounds like it’s heading for a punchline. It’s why by the end of the school year, half of his teachers are in love with him and half of them want to give him detention in someone else’s classroom for the rest of his life.

That is my son. And right after I thought just that thought, it occurred to me. When he’s in trouble, he gets scared. When he gets scared, he gets tired.

He was in bed. Colin was tucked in, under four blankets, behind a door in a room sealed shut, like I told him to do, when he runs the air conditioner. The air conditioner must be ten years old. It is loud. It doesn’t have power saver or even a thermostat. Just high and low.

Colin had it on low. I guess he had heard my lecture on not wasting power and that other charming ditty of mine about not zoning out in front of the tv.  He’d even paid attention to that speech about reading more books; “The Chronicles of Captain Underpants” was just next to him, on top of his blankets, book mark placed towards the end.

He was missing and I missed him so much. And there he was, sleeping upstairs while I worried, cursed, wept and made stupid jokes so no one would know just how scared I was.

There is a lesson here, and I’m just not ready to learn it. I hope I have a little more time.