Monday, August 29, 2005

The baby birds are learning to fly...

It happened.

My little girl went to kindergarten this morning, her face awash in the glow of the kind of excitement that only children know. She seemed to know a whole new world was about to open up to her, and she was facing it with anticipation and innocence.

The whole family walked her to school today: both of her parents, her little brother, and her older sister. She clomped up the sidewalk in her new fashion boots and knee-high socks, her backpack looking oddly big on her little-girl frame. She held hands with her sister, maybe afraid of looking too babyish if she had held mine.

"I hope no one teases her," I said to my husband as we lagged a little behind the kids.

He didn't respond, but his mouth tightened. I knew he was feeling the same.

She's so innocent. So full of exuberance and enthusiasm. At some point, some time, somewhere and somehow, someone will pierce her bubble. It happens to all of them, doesn't it? And all I want to do is stand in front of her and take the pain myself.

I realized, halfway to school, that I was holding my breath.

She was the first student to arrive. She dutifully hung up her backpack, and then she found the seat that had her name on it. Her seat tag was written in bold green-markered letters. She liked the green.

Her teacher is young and sweet, teaching her first year of kindergarten. My little girl liked her right away too.

Sometimes I remember exactly what it was like to be in kindergarten. Some of what I remember is scary and confusing. I know I have to let her grow up and find her own way, but I hope the path is smooth for her. I hope she makes friends. I hope no one teases her. If they do, I hope she stands up for herself. I hope it's all good for her.

I didn't expect to feel this way. I didn't expect to wish I could keep my baby bird shielded just a little longer.

One kid out of school, one just starting, and a little one heading to preschool next week...all of my birds are learning to fly.

I guess I should too.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

When is a house a home?

Most people who know me know that I have had a strong hankering to return to my homeland, Minnesota, for years. When I look at happy family pictures taken in the house my husband and I shared in the suburbs of St. Paul, I almost always get weepy. I loved that house. Loved it. It was a 1964 rambler with full basement in a quaint 1960s neighborhood. During the two years we lived there, we lovingly fixed it up the way we liked it; new carpet and paint, new rails and balusters for the stairs (built by my husband and my father-in-law), and the beautiful built in bar my husband hand-finished.

Yes, it was small, and by now we'd have been cramped for space. But it was also once my ideal house, the first house my husband and I bought together, and the source of much of my nostalgia.

We bought our current house in October of 2000. It's a nice enough house, but it was never quite good enough for me. I thought we'd bought too hastily. We didn't look around enough. We didn't get all the features we should have, and we didn't get enough bedrooms (though at the time we only had two children). In the nearly five years we have been here, we have completely fenced the backyard, built a huge backyard deck, landscaped the backyard with trees and dogwood bushes and lilacs, and added to the plants and trees in the front yard. We have painted the entire main level, and upgraded all the carpet on the main level, stairway, and upstairs hall.

Still, we always look. For a while, we were looking at new subdivisions and new homes at open houses every weekend. Always, we saw something that was better than what we have now, but nothing was ever just right in size, style, or price.

We went out again this afternoon. We found a house that would fit us perfectly. It has the ideal layout, lovely colors, just enough bedrooms and spare rooms, and a dream kitchen. Financially, we could swing it, but it would be a very tight fit.
We must have spent and hour in that house today, talking about where the furniture would go, who would have what room, and what the place would look like decorated for Christmas.

The house isn't in Minnesota, of course, and I wondered out loud what would be the point of moving at all if we weren't going back there.

When we got home, I looked around the front yard at my mums and trees and impatiens and felt the warmth of familiarity. We came inside, and the first words out of my mouth to my husband went something like this:

"What are the advantages of staying here? I like living in the same subdivision as J's school, so she doesn't have to ride the bus. I love our huge backyard with the deck and the dogwoods. I like my kitchen. I like the work we've done. We're settled here, we're used to it, we're comfortable, and we've lived here together longer than anywhere else."

He smiled, and so did I. And I realized for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, that this house, though it's not the original place I chose to raise my children, is indeed a home.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

What's my age again?

What does it say about a woman of my age that I have a strong fondness for Blink 182's "What's My Age Again"? What does it say about me that I listened to it at top volume on my way home from the dentist this afternoon (in my bland suburban minivan, no less)?

The guy in the song is twenty-three. Sometimes I feel twenty-three. I remember what it was like. Haven't I progressed since then (by, oh, say...about sixteen years)? This dilemma confounds me from time to time. I must have talked about it on my birthday entry, but I'm too lazy to go back and read it now. Bottom line: I don't feel like I ought to be my mother's age, and my mother is only 36. Right? Isn't she?

Damn. That makes me OLDER than my mother.

But I still feel - sometimes - like that early twentysomething with a little to look forward to, a lot to prove, and all kinds of dreams that maybe didn't mean as much as they should have.

If you were here, you'd see me pause. Sigh. Think about a glass of wine. Think about going upstairs to get ready for my date with my husband. But maybe I'm not done here.

On the age note, my oldest daughter is eighteen. She's a high school graduate. She's looking for work, planning to start college late, in the spring semester. Her boyfriend leaves a week from Monday for college a six-hour drive from here. I think she's feeling at a bit of a loss, a loose end. I think she wishes she didn't have to think about being a grown up just yet, that she could have that last year in high school back. Her buffer year. One more year with her boyfriend before different paths separate them.

If I'm honest, I'll admit I rather wish for that buffer too. I drove past her high school two days ago on my way home from some errand or other. I was unexpectedly struck with feelings of loss and nostalgia. How did her four years in high school speed by so fast? Shouldn't I have stopped and looked around at her more? Shouldn't she have? It seems just last year she caught the bus for her first day of freshman year, but the whole world has changed since then.

I wouldn't mind one more year of my kid being a kid. One more year of high school before everything changes.

So I'm 23, my mother is 36, my daughter is 18...and what does it mean? What's my age again?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Starbucks. Customer service to aspire to!

My husband had a class team meeting this evening, and they met at a Starbucks. After the meeting was over, he picked up a toffee nut latte to surprise me with.

When he handed me the toffee nut latte, I knew it was going to hit the spot. I love toffee nut lattes. I'm a toffee nut NUT!

I took a healthy sip...and there was no toffee nut. I swirled the cup around, optimistically thinking that perhaps it just hadn't been mixed in. Another sip.

No toffee nut.

I looked at the receipt...decaf, check. Extra shot, check. Nonfat milk, check. Toffee Nut syrup, check. Paid for, but not included in the drink.

Not knowing what on earth I expected them to do, I went ahead and looked up the phone number of that Starbucks location and called there. I spoke with a lovely young woman named Dana, and explained what had happened.

"I'm not sure what I expect you to do, but I just wanted to tell someone there what happened. It was so...." I trailed off, searching for a word.

"Disappointing?" Dana asked.

"Yes, that's it. Disappointing!" (Because I really do love that toffee nut!)

Dana asked me for my name, promising me a free drink next time I was in that store. I happen to have an errand to run tomorrow in that very neighborhood, so maybe I'll be able to take her up on the offer then.

A free drink for a thirty-cent shot of syrup that went missing. Now that, my friends, is outstanding customer service.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bad Blogger! What vacation?

I was going to blog the entire vacation. No, really. I thought I would.

I didn't.

I meant to, honestly. But I was doing things. Shopping for clothes, tax-free! Taking my children to the pool. Letting them run around in their grandparents' yard. Playing Parcheesi and sifting through recipes with my mother. Helping my daughter make a scrapbook for my husband. Attempting to get my fill of Caribou coffee while it was close at hand.

And sometimes...just sitting and being. Breathing in the damp Minnesota air and savoring every tiny moment of something or nothing with the people and places of my roots. Trying to memorize every line on my mother's face, the colors of my father's beard, and the smell of the cinnamon rolls baking in the morning.

I meant to blog it all, fresh in my mind. I meant to save it that way. But I was too busy saving it in my heart.


We just got back this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day to write it all down.