Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Right BackAtcha, Mr. Novelli!

It was my birthday the other day. It was a pretty good birthday. They don't thrill me like they used to, birthdays. I'm sure that's true for a lot of us. I don't get horribly depressed by them or anything like that, but all the same, it's "just another day" and age is "just a number" and you're "only as old as you feel" and all that shit. Give me my present, and let's move on.

The men in my family have a sick sense of humor. Well, before I trash them, let me give Peter and Zack and Everett credit for getting me Bacon of the Month Club for my big day. I mean, I basically told them flat-out what I wanted. But this time they actually listened, and more importantly, followed through on it. And it wasn't cheap. And since Peter gets the vapors these days if I so much as put a quarter in a gumball machine, I appreciated it all the more. He's come a long way since the kite and the kitchen magnets he got me for my first birthday after we were married. (I kid you not.) Like most men, if you give them very careful and very specific instructions, they generally do OK. I'll give credit where credit is due. But back to the sick sense of humor part.

After my Sunday birthday, which capped off the long Thanksgiving weekend (when I was little, I waited for years for the day that Thanksgiving would fall on my birthday, before I finally realized it was mathematically impossible) I returned to work on Monday. Back to the grind. After a long day of enduring the tense atmosphere of the workplace thanks to the Department of Ed reps "in da house" reviewing us, I came home to nap off a mild headache before having to return to the school to give a report at the monthly Parents' Association meeting that evening. On the way there, I scraped the side of my van against a double-parked delivery truck. Waaahhh! The meeting, once it started, became somewhat rancorous over various things that worried the parents and those discussions went on for almost an hour before we even got to my little nickel-and-dime report. Once the mommas settled down, and I got my chance to speak, I ran back to my scratched-up van and headed home. To the comfort of home and hearth. Ahhhh.

My cell phone rang as I entered the building. Peter. I couldn't pick up, no service as I was getting on the elevator. Turns out he was home already, anyway.

"Damn," he said, with the phone still in his hand, as I walked in the door.

"Hello to you too," I replied.

"I was hoping to remind you to pick up some sugar," he said suggestively. Peter is Viennese, he needs his sugar.

"Well, it's a shame you didn't catch me before I got all the way upstairs then," I said, as I pulled off my coat and shoes in a decisively day-concluding "I'm-not-turning-around-and-going-back-outside-for-your-sugar" fashion.

Zack was waiting eagerly nearby, next to the table we throw all our stuff on as we come through the front door. Doesn't everyone have one of those? ("I dunno where it is! Look on the table!!")

"Mom, the mail's here!"

I should mention here that Zack has never once in his life concerned himself with the mail, unless his wrestling magazine is overdue. Peter suddenly forgets his sugar crisis and chimes in, "Oh yes! Here's the mail!" He gestures like he's Vanna White or something.

"Yeah? So?" I crank. I snatch the envelope from Zack's hand as he takes two quick safety-seeking steps backwards. I look at the envelope.


I look up at them. I look down again. Re-read the envelope. I calculate my age in my head. I do it again. Maybe I'm older than I think? Nope. I yam what I yam.

Which is most definitely not AARP material. Peter is standing there trying not-so-terribly-hard to conceal a smirk, as is Zack, who has no real idea of what's so funny from the male sick-sense-of-humor angle, but is looking sideways at Daddy for approval.

I open the envelope and have a look. There's a card in there. A membership card. An old fart membership card. That they expect me to put in my wallet and carry around.

And there's an invoice in there. $12.50 a year. They actually want to charge me for the privilege of being designated an official old fart.

Peter and Zack wait quietly by, still a-smirk, as I look at this...this.....stuff. I stand there for a moment and heave a heavy sigh before I finally find the words.....

I'll clean it up here, but rest assured, my tirade was peppered with such four-letter words as I haven't used in the same sentence since the local anesthesia wore off after the bone spur surgery on my right foot. After each expletive I'd turn to Zack, "Excuse me, Zack!" which only cracked him up even more.

"What is this? What is this?? I'm not fifty! I'm not %@$*&% fifty! You're supposed to be
%@*^%*#ing fifty to get this shit in the mail, aren't you? I'm not retired. Who can think about retiring at this age?? Paul, you didn't get this until you were %$*@&@ing fifty, right? Right?? Why am I getting this now? Do they know something I don't know? Do they need the money? Are they gonna start sending out memberships to college students next, @*&%$*@ it?? And who's this on the card? "William D. Novelli, CEO." How the hell does William D. Novelli %@$*&^%ing know how old I am?? How the f*@&%$@ old is William D. Novelli??"

I am NOT joining AARP. I don't need their 10% discounts at Hertz rent-a-car, or "second entree half off" deals at Applebee's or whatever the f@&%$@ they are offering me. I don't want to know about, nor contribute to, the lobbying they do in DC for the real old farts rattling around in this country. When I am an old fart, then maybe I will. But don't try to drag me in now, Mr. Novelli, because I ain't going!!

Maybe I'll start my own organization, I have some ideas.

* The "Those of Us who still look OK with a Little Effort" Association.
* "Coalition of Employees who Want to go Home Early."
* The "Don't Touch That!" Society.
* "Hot Bacon-Lovers of America."
* "I Don't Dust Enough" Anonymous.
* "Schmoozers Unlimited."
* "An Appletini a Day Keeps the Psychiatrist Away" Club.

I could go on, because my brain is working, I have plenty of energy, and I am not retired. If I want to define myself, I will do it myself, thank you very much!

I rock.

Eff off, Mr. N.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

600 Feet Over The Hudson

Dear Diary,

Tonight, I couldn't sleep too well. I was thinking about a lot of things. I decided to make a couple of birthday resolutions. I think it makes more sense to make resolutions on one's birthday, rather than on New Year's Day. Resolutions are a gift to oneself, after all; a promise to oneself to improve and to do things better.

I am going to write every day. If even a little bit. If even a line. You may or may not see it here, diary. It may be somewhere else. I was tempted to say it may be written "in my head," but that's cheating. No, I will WRITE something everyday, and it will be either on paper (remember paper?) or on a computer screen. And I am going to write different things. I've already started.

I will read something every day. Actually, that's not a resolution, I already do that. I will read something different, something I am not particulalry drawn to, every day. Yes, I will make myself read something that couldn't interest me less. Something from Zack's wrestling magazine, say. Peter's sailboat newsletter, maybe. Or the sports page from the New York Post. You never know where you might get an idea.

And I am going to walk over the George Washington Bridge. Not today. Not tomorrow. Some strategizing is involved.

But soon.

I would have to do it on a weekend, obviously. And on a day it's not too cold. Or raining. I might slip and fall.

I have to figure out how to get to the walkway. I've never approached the George Washington Bridge from anywhere but the highway. I don't even begin to know where to find the walkway. It's probably not half as difficult to find it as I imagine it to be. I'm just not approaching it from the right vantage point.

I have to decide, once I'm up there, whether to walk closer to the roadway or closer to the slatted fence that runs along the side of the bridge. From what I have observed from my car, that fence is sort of open. Not so open you could actually fall through or anything. But open enough for me to imagine in my overheated little brain that it could happen, which might be enough to freeze my feet in their tracks. But if I walk closer to the roadway with the cars whizzing past, I might feel inclined to jump away, which would be back in the direction of that fence, and well, there you go again.

I have to decide if I need somebody with me, or if I can do it alone. I know myself, I could get out there, a quarter of the way, maybe even halfway across, and suddenly find myself not able to go any further, nor able to turn around and head back. Just be stuck there clutching onto a post or some metal thing that one would find in the middle of the George Washington Bridge. Then what would I do? Jesus. It would have to be the right person, naturally. Someone who could combine the right degree of encouragement, with the critical characteristic of knowing when is the right time to stop, remembering that tomorrow is another day. It would have to be someone who understands why I want to do this. Even though I'm not sure I do.

There would have to be a ride on the other side to take me back across. A taxi stand, or a bus stop maybe. I couldn't face making it across, only to have to turn around and do it again.

Though it might be easier the second time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Brown Needles

I think about death fairly often. In a general way, not in a morbid way. I don't necessarily think about how I may die, though I do that sometimes. I'm not religious; I don't wonder much about whether we "go" anywhere after we die. I don't ponder over the existence of an afterlife, though it would be cool if there were one. I tend to think about death from this side of it.

I allow my head toy around with it. I've long since stopped chastising myself for doing this; we really have no control over our brain's gymnastics. The brain plays games; sometimes it plays morbid games. What would I do if a loved one--a family member or a dear friend, walked out the door one day and never came back? A heart attack, a speeding car, movers dropping a grand piano from the seventh floor window? What would everyone do if I suddenly died? How would my family react? How would my friends feel? What if I didn't die suddenly, but lingered for a while, if I had cancer, or some degenerative disease? Would I go out in a classy fashion; would I leave all (or any) visitors feeling better when they left than they did when they arrived? Could I be that strong and that composed, or would I be a bitter, blubbering wreck?

I imagine who might speak at my funeral and what they might say. Who might come, who might not be able to make it, who might not be able to bring themselves to.

I envision myself buried. I have nothing against cremation, and no real desire to make a big deal about it in my will or anyplace. If my family cremates me, they cremate me. I won't know. Just please don't scatter me across the sea. I'm nervous way out on boats, and don't want to be thrown in the water. I know, I know, I just said I wouldn't know. But just don't, please. If you have to cremate me, put me in a nice urn on a shelf, preferably in front of the TV. I know, I know. Just do it.

But I like cemeteries. Woodlawn Cemetery is beautiful; a superior place to walk around on a warm and sunny spring day. I like the thought of surviving loved ones coming to a beautiful park like that to pay their respects, lay some flowers on my grave (I like irises...) They could enjoy the scenery, get some fresh air. Maybe visit Miles Davis or Fiorello LaGuardia while they're there.

My grandpa died when I was four. He was buried in the little family plot behind O'Kelly's Chapel off NC State Highway 751. If you pass the county line into Durham, oops! You just missed it.

No family visit to Durham was complete without at least one visit out to O'Kelly's. On a sunny summer afternoon Grandma would pick some flowers from her garden. She was a vegetable gardener really, not a flower gardener, but she had all manner of wildflowers around the edges. I remember the violets in particular. She'd pack a picnic, and we'd pile into Aunt Babs' station wagon--me, Dad, sometimes Mom, and most certainly Grandma.

It was a pleasant outing, always. Granted, I was only a little thing, there could have been some sadness lurking, some tears secretly wiped away that I simply did not see. But the vibe was a happy vibe. We'd eat, oh man! Fried chicken, ham biscuits, peaches. Grandma would brush off Grandpa's flat, full-sized granite grave marker, and lay most of the flowers there. Dad would knock around with a rake to neaten up the pine needles. I'd run around between the gravestones and collect pine cones for the fire we'd build in Grandma's fireplace that evening, the fire that would have a heavenly smell and the occasional, pleasingly startling POP.
I'd read all the names. "Who's this? Who's that?" Names repeated all over....great, great great, and even great great great grandparents were there. The grandmas from generations ago with the maiden names and the married names on the markers. Wives, husbands, uncles, sisters-in-law. Babies.

It was a great big puzzle for me to try to put together. Dad and Aunt Babs pretty much knew who was who, but Grandma ultimately knew best, and had anecdotes and background info to boot. "Mary Alice Herndon, that was my daddy's great aunt. She took care of my brother and me one entire summer when Mama had Scarlet Fever. Sallie Rose Parrish, that was your Grandpa's stepmother. She was only seventeen when she married your great-grandpa after he was widowed and took over that family."

Everette Pickett. Grandma's grandma.

"Wow that's old, Grandma!"

What a cool name, too.

We had the key to the little chapel, long since out of regular use by any church-going congregation. While Grandma distributed the rest of her flowers and Dad whacked back some of the weeds that lined the chain-link fence, Babs and I would walk back up from the graveyard around to the tall doors of the chapel that faced the road. It would take her a minute or two of working that old-fashioned key to get the doors to open. I always felt a little bit like we were sneaking in.

We'd walk in, sit in a pew, and embrace the simple silence. The center aisle separated seven, maybe ten rows of pews. I'd stare out the stained glass windows. I was not a regular church-goer. I was a regular Sunday-school goer when I was really little, Mom insisted. But it was more of a social thing than a religious thing, and I hardly remember ever attending church services. It was church services for the adults, Sunday school for the kids, and coffee and cookies for everyone afterwards.

So the hush of the nave, the empty nave, was most unusual to me. But it was modest, uncomplicated, anything but forbidding. After we sat for a while, I'd walk between the rows, up and down. Babs didn't mind. I respected the chapel, didn't climb on the pews or run through indiscriminately. I just wandered all around and had a good look. Paged through the hymnals. Gazed upon the altar.

We'd always pause at the organ, and Babs would always open it, just for a minute or two, and let me play. There were so many knobs with so many exotic names: Viola, Cremona, Clarabella. She'd pump the foot pedals and let me press a few keys and we'd listen the the big sound resonate in the little room.

Then we'd leave and Babs would lock the door and drop her key back into her wicker bag.

Babs died years later, died suddenly. I was grown by then, and back in New York. Mom and Dad and I had plans to visit Babs, who was recovering from a broken leg, a silly fall. Our flight was the next day when we received the call from her close friend and neighbor that Babs had died in her sleep. An aneurysm. A "ruptured berry aneurysm." I pictured a blackberry floating through her veins.

We travelled down with the plane reservations we already had, never dreaming that the tickets would be tickets to a funeral. Dad, stunned, worked his way through hasty plans. A service at the college where she was a beloved administrator was attended by hundreds.

Grandma had died some years before, also in her sleep. She was already at rest under a flat granite marker, next to Grandpa. Babs was laid next to them as we sat in folding chairs on that heavy August day. The preacher's name was Crate, I remember dad telling me, Crate Somebody. He'd known him since childhood. Crate. Only in the south.

Soon Babs would have her own granite marker, a marker I wouldn't see until some time later when I finally made my way down there again. I was pregnant, about six months along, with my first.

I couldn't even look at Babs or at Grandma for too long. I hadn't grown up with them in the ground, and coming back and seeing granite markers instead of Grandma with her violets and Babs with her chapel key was too hard. The ones who seemed in place were the ones who had been in the ground back when I was small, back when I ran around collecting pine cones, back when Dad cut the weeds by the chain-link fence. I'd known Grandpa almost solely through my family's stories and the visits to his grave, when we stretched out on his granite marker, eating ham biscuits and peaches. Grandpa called me to his grave and I sat down and rested. I knew him the least, but here I knew him the best.

I'd have to go soon. I couldn't lay across the grave all afternoon, even though the sun felt good, and I was in no hurry to get anywhere. I picked myself up and walked around, visited with my folks. The Parrishes, the Herndons, the Barbees, the Picketts.

Everette Pickett, farther in the back of the little churchyard than I remembered. Grandma's grandma. The one she always specially pointed out to me because she was so special to her. The one with the eye-catching name. Did she get teased for her unusual name, Everette, I wondered? I bet not. I imagined she carried that unique name with aplomb, and that it made her strong. Was it an unusual name, back then, for a girl? Did people have more important things to worry about back in the 19th century other than what your name was? Whatever the reason, of all the names at O'Kelly's, "Everette" was one I always remembered.

What a perfect name for my baby girl.

I looked at that "e" at the end.

Everette. Everette. Everett? Everette?


Let's change it, just a tiny bit, but in a big way, and make it my own, for my baby. Everett. An interesting name, a unique name. But a real name, a solid name. A name to live up to. A strong name for a strong kid.

Everett Barbara. "Everett," in memory of the woman who so influenced one of the most influential women in my life, and "Barbara," who carried the souls of the family past in her wicker bag.

I walked out and latched the gate behind me. I left quickly; there was no other way to do it. But I knew I'd be back one day, with my Everett.

We'll go down there, Everett and I. It's been this long, a much longer time than I ever expected to let pass before crossing back through that gate. I hope the groundskeeper still tends to it, the groundskeeper my dad still writes a check to every month after all these many years. He's got to be ninety, that groundskeeper, and one has to have faith.

I'll show Everett that stone. And Grandpa's and Grandma's. And Babs'.

We'll walk around and I'll show her all the names and I'll try to remember how all those puzzle pieces fit together, so I can tell her. I hope it's a nice day, because we'll have to stay outside.

I don't have the key to the chapel.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Comfort Foods

I love bacon. Love, love, love it. I'm eating some right now. Actually, no I'm not, I'm lying. That would make my keyboard all greasy. Eww. But I'm gonna be eating some in a few minutes. That's the plan, Stan.

I am the best cooker of bacon in my family. Peter is better with the over-easy eggs (I'm a yolk-breaker) but he burns bacon. I like my bacon with an initial crisp bite, but a good degree of chew to it. Cooking bacon is the one thing I do where I am able to take my time. Bacon needs to be nutured and gently treated. I turn it, turn it again, turn it again. Adjust the heat a little lower. Adjust the heat just a tad higher. Rotate the pan so the heat is distributed evenly. It's totally worth all the little splatters that sting my lower arms and grease the top of the stove. Don't even talk to me about microwave bacon.

Bacon is my favorite food.

Unless it's mashed potatoes. Man, mashed potatoes rock, too. In all forms. I even like instant mashed potatoes; I'm not all that particular. They're all good. Everett is pickier (what a shocker.) If I make instant she gets all indignant. "Mom. Why do you always make instant mashed potatoes when you know I don't like them??"

Well, maybe because I just got home from work, and I have to go back to a meeting in an hour? Maybe because I ran out of real potatoes? Maybe because the world doesn't revolve around you? Maybe...oh, never mind.

But I usually make them "real." And on Thanksgiving, I make them with heavy cream, butter, sour cream, bacon (bacon!), chives, and maybe I'll throw some shredded cheddar in there as well. If there is one food I would take to a desert island, it would be mashed potatoes.

Although, if a bowl of macaroni and cheese were sitting right there too, I'd have to mull it over. Have you ever gone to one of those fabulous cafeterias they have in the South? The ones that all the old people pack after church on a Sunday? You always see the desserts first as you start down the line. If they put the desserts last, you would always say "Wait! I can't take a dessert! Look at all this friggin' food I have on my tray already!" So they put the dessert first, you take one, and there's nowhere to put it if you change your mind on down the line. Clever.

But I digress. There is always mac and cheese at those places, and it's always excellent, and it's always a tough starch decision between that and mashed potatoes. If these places were anywhere but the South, people would holler at you to stop holding up the line. But you have to decide. You can't have both. That's just low-rent.

My mom used to make macaroni and cheese. Hers was subtle and dry, not all bubbly and gooey. I've become a convert to making the gooey kind with the crust on top. But sometimes I make it Mom's way because it reminds me of her.

Zack, on the other hand, prefers Kraft. Harumph.

You know what goes good with macaroni and cheese? Bacon.

My Baby Guy

God! Zack! His report card! I'm banging my head against the wall. It keeps me from banging his head against the wall.

Did I mention?? Report cards came home today. I always shoot parents an e-mail home to give them a heads' up, because kids don't always hand-deliver those beauties right to their waiting parents. Working in the school naturally gives me an advantage as a parent. And I like to "pass the savings on" to my parent constituency. I also help them follow up if their kids happen to "conveniently" lose their report cards between school and home. Happens a lot, go figure. They're slippery, those report cards, you know?

Zack has started his middle school career in much the same way Everett did. With occasional bursts of encouraging success, a lot of enthusiasm for things not directly related to academics, and a host of teachers chanting "Lovely kid, but needs to chat less and pay attention more." Doesn't work to potential. Stock comment #4 on the computer-generated report cards.

I constantly re-evaluate my attitude toward my kids' education.

I'm not the parent of my parents' or grandparents' generation, who pounded into their kids' heads: "I had to walk three miles to school every day, and was thankful for the opportunity!"

I'm not the parent who pores over her kids' homework agenda every night. "Whadya have tonight? This, that, and the other?? OK, fine, get to work." That's what I do. Later: "Did you finish this, that, and the other? Yeah? Really? You're not lying to me now, are you? I'll find out if you are, you know!" But middle school boys aren't all that good at worrying about the future, be it three years or three days from now. And I'm not the parent who closely reviews the completed homework, nor am I the parent who re-does my child's homework. And believe me, they're out there, those parents. The parents who do their kids' homework for them. Anything for the grade. Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm such a reactionary.

Or maybe it's because I'm lazy. Kids do need help and do need guidance. But in all honesty, homework is the last thing I want to look at when I get home from a long day at work. Not because I work in a school. But because I work period, and I am tired. I'll never turn Zack away with his questions, and I will hound him to make sure he's in there doing it, but I'm not going in there and sit by his side and look over his shoulder. Some kids do need that. Absolutely. But what Zack needs is to come down to earth and pay attention to his responsibilities. And suffer the consequences if he doesn't. The school consequences. Failing a class. Reprimands from teachers. Not getting into the Honor Society. It's only middle school. He's got room to learn responsibility here, before he gets to high school where everything really counts. I just believe it will stick better if he comes to it on his own.

If. Everett didn't really get her act together until she was in the 10th grade, and she began to realize there was a golden future in front of her that she would not get to take part in unless she started paying attention, working hard, and striving for it. I'm hoping the same thing will happen with Zack.

True, they're different kids. He's a boy, she's a girl. He's the younger child in the family, she's the older. And they differ for other reasons too; they differ just because they do. Everett is very intense, Zack is easier-going. I've always characterized him as "the one who you will find in later life with the lampshade on his head." Which is amusing when you are humorously and semi-seriously speculating about a four-year-old. But maybe not as amusing when you fast-forward years later and push comes to shove. But we'll see. There's time yet to go, and I am determined to let him learn by his mistakes, and find his way.

I've said before that I idolize Everett. And I do. And I relate to her as a girl, in a way I will never be able to relate to Zack. It's different.

Though Zack captures in his personality more of my insecurities, more of my little compulsions, my little worries. He's not as strong-willed or focused as some. But he's very compassionate. He's deferential. He's devastated if he thinks he's hurt someone's feelings. He doesn't want to disappoint, which is a nice quality, as long as he can learn to direct it toward himself, as well as others. He needs to learn to make himself proud, too.

He's soft. He'd die if he knew I said that. But he is. He has a wonderful, sweet, inviting quality that draws others to him. He's charming, and has a disarming sense of humor.

But he's tough. And tenacious. He's not afraid. Watch him wrestle. He will always get out from underneath the stronger kids. As long as he has his coach there shouting instructions, he can always do it.

Eventually, he'll learn to do it by himself.

Maryland Travelogue

We're back from Maryland, Everett and Meghan and I. We had a good, if giggly, time.

Teenage girls are funny. Especially "happenin'" teenage girls like Everett and Meghan. You know, the girls that sashay down the halls at school and are just too cool. When you get them alone, or with someone like me (who doesn't matter) they are silly and goofy like kids five years their junior. When Everett and her friend Annika were eleven, they would secretly play Barbies together. They needed that occasional little "retreat" to their younger days. "Don't tell anyone," they'd beg. Hey, far be it for me to give up anyone's secret. I've got enough of my own.

They played this little game on the ride down in the car on Tuesday morning, and through much of the day later as we walked the streets of Washington DC. It was cute, if wearing on the nerves after a while. Whenever one of them saw a Mini Cooper car, that one could slap the other on the arm. If one saw a "smart car" then that one could punch the other in the arm. If we passed a PT Cruiser, then it was a pinch on the arm. All of this hilarity was accompanied by shrieks, protestations, and calls for clarification. We could have used slo-mo replay. I was the soul of patience, just glad to have a change of scenery for a couple of days, even if a couple of those shouts almost startled me off the side of the Jersey Turnpike.

They did give me a few minutes of relative peace as we neared our desination in the early afternoon after I implored, "Dear God, please just let me concentrate here for a few minutes so I can find the Hyatt!!"

"Maybe that giant, lighted "Hyatt" sign right in front of you is a hint!" Everett pointed out. Thanks.

The hotel was quite the hit with the girls. They loved the overly solicitious porters and the overly inquisitive lady at the check-in counter ("And where are you from? And how was your drive? And why are you here?") OK sister, mind your business already. The glass elevators, the fancy toiletries and the marble countertops in the bathroom. "Don't touch the mini-bar!" The view of the city (Bethesda, but still....)

They were impressed with how frequent, smooth, and smell-free the DC Metro was in comparison to the New York City subway. Once those Metro doors close, however, they CLOSE! No banging them back open like you do in New York. Well, actually, you can kind of hold them open for a second or two, in Superman fashion, if you really, really have to. I had to when we switched trains at Metro Center because we were in danger of leaving Meghan on the platform, and I paid for it the rest of the day.

We didn't have a whole lot of time in DC proper, arrving around 3:00 as we did. We breezed thorugh a couple of the Smithsonian museums, which didn't thrill the girls, and through the Haupt gardens outside, which actually DID, go figure. We walked across the Mall, and I photographed the girls in front of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, which Everett insisted was the White House.

To help convince her she was wrong, (you can't just tell Everett she is wrong, you have to convince her) we headed over to the actual White House, tailing along behind a group of elderly Japanese tourists, who, inexplicably, began slapping themselves on the back of their left shoulder with their right hand. Repeatedly, almost in unison. "Whassup widdat??" the girls and I asked each other. Never found that out, and as we neared the sidewalk in front of the White House, we saw that it was blocked off, as many streets in DC inevitably are. The policeman on duty was taking pains to explain to the befuddled Japanese tourists why they could not continue. The girls and I did not care why. The Homeland Security alert must have been bumped up from yellow to orange, or orange to purple, or some such. "Whatever....Let's go eat!"

We paused crossing the street as twenty young men, all dressed exactly alike in dark suits and ties and all in a row, sped by on segue scooters.

Off to Dupont Circle, my favorite neighborhood. It tries to be cool and trendy and to emit a West Village sort of vibe, but doesn't really pull it off. Yet it is vibrant and fun on its own smallish scale, and a welcome departure from the fartiness of the rest of the city. I like the juxtiposition.

We went to my favorite place on Connecticut Avenue, "Bistro du Coin." (This, after being hopelessly turned around after coming out of the Metro; happens every trip, every time I emerge for the first time from the Dupont Circle station.) Great steak frites, and a great selection of other things. Everett was going to order beef tripe stew, until she asked the waiter what tripe was. A hopping place on a warm evening, without being overly hip. Decent prices, unless you want to do some drinkin', which of course was not the case tonight. Everett and Meghan mused over whether our waiter had a real French accent, or if he was putting it on. It was real. ("How do you know?" "I just know!")

I ordered the escargots appetizer not so much because I love escargots (they're OK,) but because I wanted to see if I could get a rise out of the girls. I was disappointed they weren't served in their shells (the snails, not the girls) because I was planning to do the "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy's in the cafe in Paris, unwittingly orders the dish which is brought out with the little pinchers to hold the shell, and she puts the pinchers on her nose. The girls would have died, it would have been fabulous! I had to settle with trying to convince them to try one....Meghan declined, but Everett took the plunge...my girl!

After dinner, it was time to head back to the hotel. It was not particularly late, but it had been a long drive and a long day of walking around and getting hit by subway doors, and we had a big college tour the next day. We got back to the hotel and settled into the room just in time to see a "special report" on TV. A big thunderstorm front would soon be crossing over the DC area, with accompanying "tornado watch." This was enough to send the girls into an adolescent tizzy ("It's headed this way!!") My plans for a shower were off. They didn't even want to let me go to the bathroom. Shades were closed. The TV reception went off (for all of three minutes) and the drama increased exponentially.

Of course, if either one of them were at home and not with one another, this whole episode would have been a non-event.

Then it was over. The girls found their teenage soap opera program on TV, Everett called her boyfriend Josh to give him a weather update and engage in a little sweet talk. They actually did some homework. And I, somehow, as poor a sleeper as I am, managed to drop off in the middle of all of this...which, after this day (a good day, but a long day) was an absolute gift.

Because we had a college tour the next morning!


I called a temporary moratorium on the slapping/punching/pinching shenanigans as we left the Hyatt to drive to College Park. We were running a little late, and I was a little vague on the directions. I needed to concentrate. "I hope you aren't going to be this pissy all day," said Everett. "No, I'm only going to be this pissy until we get to the school," said I.

We got there, and in time, with only minor hitches. I got off at an earlier exit than the hotel concierege had instructed, because the exit sign said "U of Maryland." Well, what would you have done? "Listen to the concierge," you say?? Well, try as I might, I never seem to be able to not second-guess directions. One of my few faults. And the exit did take us to the University of Maryland, just to the opposite side of the campus from where we needed to be. Which was a slightly bigger deal here than it might have been at another college, since the University of Maryland is the size of a small city. But get to the visitor's center we did, and they were only just starting.

The information session was rather dull. I wouldn't blame it entirely on the young man from the admissions department who was speaking, though I do have two words for whoever is in charge of staffing these things: "stage presence." No, rather it was dull because somehow all these presentations start to sound alike after a while. I don't care if you're at a huge public institution, or a tiny private college. Somehow all the talks are the same. All the tours, too.

We walked three or four miles on this particular tour, easy. And the tour guide did it backwards, so kudos to her. What was it someone once said about Ginger Rogers? She did everything Fred Astaire did, plus backwards and in high heels. I wondered if when they trained these student guides, they made them practice that. I thought it would be amusing if you happened to see this girl on campus one day going to class, and she was still walking backwards. I laughed out loud and shared the thought with Everett. She didn't find it funny. I don't know what's the matter with her sometimes.

We saw dozens of red brick buildings, colonnades, fountains, stadiums (I know it's "stadia," but who can say that, seriously??) and all the rest. Apparently the university president is the guy who once upon a time invented the quick-release mechanism for skis (I'm assuming he wasn't hired based solely on that achievement...) Fun fact. I thought my husband Peter, an avid skier, would enjoy knowing that, but when I shared that nugget upon our return, I was greeted with little more than a "hunh."

I gotta find a better audience.

At the conclusion of the tour, the guide said that nearby Silver Spring ("Four miles, tops!") was a great town, and that everyone should stop by there after the tour if they had the time. The girls and I took her at her word, and drove over there for lunch. Well first of all, it wasn't four miles, like the girl said; it was about twelve or fifteen. This doesn't sound like a lot, unless you have a two hundred mile drive ahead of you after that. And secondly, I really don't know what the fuss was about. If Silver Spring is such an "awesome" town, I'd like to know where this poor girl hails from. But there we found ourselves, so we had lunch.

Well, I have to tell you, lunch made the whole Silver Spring detour entirely worthwhile. The "Urban BBQ Company." Meghan and I shared an artichoke dip that almost certainly had more calories than one body is supposed to consume in an entire day, never mind in a starter course for lunch. Then we devoured baked potato soup (with bacon and cheese!!) cornbread, crabcakes, rotisserie chicken and chicken pot pie....seventy five dollars, five thousand calories, one roll of Tums, and one stop in the neighboring cosmetics store later, we were on the road.

I officially lifted the moratorium on the slapping, pinching and punching, but it didn't matter, because Everett and Meghan slept the whole way home.

Today's Bullet

We've all dodged bullets: little bullets, big bullets, huge freakin' bullets.

Sometimes we know immediately when we've dodged one. Sometimes we dodge bullets without even knowing it (those can play with your head if you've had one too many drinks and think about it too hard.) And sometimes something happens, and it doesn't dawn on you until sometime later that it was another one of those bullets you dodged.

I immediately knew I dodged one the time when my daughter Everett, four years old at the time, uncharacteristically broke away from me while I was chatting on the sidewalk, and dashed across the street to the playground. A particularly notorious side street where drivers frequently and blatantly exceeded the speed limit. Nothing happened, though the hair on my arms still stands up when I think about it thirteen years later.

The bullets dodged inadvertantly and unwittingly...well, obviously I can't tell you anything about those. Those are the ones that those of us who pray, pray for protection from. And those of us who don't...well, I guess we're just beneficiaries of dumb luck, as long as it lasts.

Today, I had a delayed-response bullet. My son Zack, wanted to take the city bus to school. A not-unreasonable request for a twelve year old. He's walked to school several times, and walked home at the end of the day even more frequently. He has a school-issued metrocard for the city bus (half-fare, because we live less than a mile from the school.) He assured me he knew how to use the card and pay the half-fare, because his sister showed him. He knew which stop to get off, how to cross the footbridge over the parkway, and which door to enter the school. Good to go.

So he goes. And I leave a few minutes later in my car to head to work. I round the corner at the end of my street, and who do I spy but Zack, standing at the bus stop. The WRONG bus stop! He's standing with all the suits, waiting to catch the bus for their office jobs down in Manhattan. My short little guy, with his shaggy hair, t-shirt, bermuda shorts, giant sneakers and his bookbag on his back, with the grown-ups and their briefcases. I was momentarily amused. I pulled over, and told him to get in the car. When I explained the mistake, he wanted to get out and wait for the bus at the right bus stop, so I let him, and went on my way. He got to school OK (I checked, of course) so, end of story...

...Except, I started thinking about it, and then thinking and thinking about it. What could have happened if he had gotten on that wrong bus?? Ian has a cell phone, though this particular morning, he didn't have it with him, because he hadn't re-charged it overnight. Seventh grade boys aren't always on top of things like keeping their cell phone charged. Actually, they're rarely on top of things like that. Actually, they're hardly ever on top of things like that. But I knew this, and said it was OK, because, after all, it was only a five-minute bus ride (going in the correct direction, of course!) But if he had gotten on the wrong bus, and gone the wrong way, what would he have done?

Would he have gotten off the bus and attempted to find a bus going back the right way from down on Broadway in the Bronx? Would a kind-hearted bus driver have let him back on, even though he only had the half-fare metrocard and no money? Would he have asked a nice "mom" looking lady if he could use her cell phone to call me? Would he have been foolish enough to get in the car of someone who might prey on a little lost-looking kid in the street?

It boggles the mind, the variables. And when you have kids, your whole life is watching out for what could happen. The variables. Because if you slip up just once, and the stars aren't with you, instead of wondering what could happen, you might find yourself what you could have done to prevent a tragedy.

And if that ever happened, I wouldn't want to dodge a bullet, I'd want to jump in front of one.