Doing Things the Slow Way

“How do you do that without cutting your finger with the knife?” Vivi asked me while I was peeling peaches at the sink.

“You don’t put any force behind the knife. You just use the edge of the paring knife to bump the skin up a little bit then pull it away from the peach.”

“Can I try?”

I considered it for half a second. “No, this takes a lot of practice. You can help me cut them up and make the cobbler, how about that?”

She thought that was a fine idea and went back to her Kindle. My mom brought a half-bushel of peaches to us on Friday night. I’ve already given a big bowl to Anna and a big bowl to Heather. Now Vivi and I will spend a rainy Sunday afternoon making a simple cobbler.

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As I stood there peeling peaches with the little paring knife I got for Christmas twenty years ago, I thought about Anna and how she had already turned her share into peach jam. She must know some fast way to peel peaches. I bet she does that flash boil then ice bath to make the skins slide right off. I don’t remember my mom or my dad doing it that way.

How DID I learn to hold a knife this was and find that sweet spot between hacking away at the fruit and gently convincing the peel to slide away? I had to have learned it from my parents, but I don’t remember a specific lesson. Just watching and learning and deciding to try. And doing it wrong for a while until it clicked.

My hand started cramping up after about five peaches and I thought about boiling a big pot of water for the rest of them. I’ve got all the things that would make it easy to do–boiling pots and slotted spoons and a ready supply of ice from the freezer. But I kept on doing it the slow way, the meditative way.

Because when I peel peaches the slow way, I can get lost in my thoughts. As I shift from foot to foot in front of the sink, I think about how Mr. Aaron Dees installed my Grandmama Irene’s sink and kitchen counters about six inches lower to suit her petite size. And how she had him switch the hot and cold water taps because she is left-handed. I remember Grandmama Eunice’s deep white enamel sink and how she kept tin pans in there to catch the grease or scraps. How she slung the water out the back door after cleaning up. What was that plant she fed with the greasy water–a hydrangea or a scrabbly old nandinas? I think about selling peaches by the highway with Jeffrey. I remember the prices for the different sizes of baskets–$2 for the little quart with the green edge; $3.50 for the red gallon, $5 for a peck. I remember sitting in a folding chair under the tent at the peach stand and hearing The Police sing “Every Breath You Take” for the first time.  I think about how Aunt Dixie pickled peaches with little cloves floating in the juice and the beauty of a laundry room shelf filled with golden jars at the end of summer.

I like peeling peaches the slow way, at least once a summer. I get lost in stories. I find that balance on the knife-edge of memory,not using too much force, letting the fruit emerge. Just the way someone must have taught me along the way.

We pull out the flour and the baking powder and the sugar. Vivi gets to press the buttons on the microwave to melt the butter. She stirs together the dry ingredients. She gets to pinch the salt. I pour out the milk and she pours it into the bowl. She stirs. She learns how to find the TBSP in a draw cluttered with a lifetime of kitchen tools, including her Great Grandmama Eunice’s biscuit cutter. She reads the instructions off my laptop screen. I point out the right size pot and we boil peaches and sugar and a little lemon juice into a syrup. She scatters a little too much cinnamon over the top. I stir it in and no harm, no foul. We layer the butter and the batter and the peaches in a white baking pan that I’ll probably pass along to her one day when she’s got her first apartment. Big Gay gave this one to me for Christmas the year I moved into my first place.

Twenty years from now, Vivi will make a peach cobbler on a rainy afternoon. She won’t even remember how and when she learned how to do it. But I will have taught her the slow way, somewhere along the way.

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P.S.: We used the Southern Living recipe for “Easy Peach Cobbler.” Two yums up!

 

What Is Privilege? Let My Fat Pants Explain

Casual Friday is supposed to be a treat, right? It hasn’t been for me lately, but at least Casual Friday taught me a fresh lesson about privilege and how hard it can be to see when you’re wrapped up in it.

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What time is brunch?

I guess this story started many years ago, back when I was a world traveler who went to fancy places. Whether it was tea on the veranda in Bermuda, climbing to the top of the Acropolis in Athens, or dinner at a quaint Icelandic restaurant in Prague, I didn’t want to dress like a tourist. I discovered the perfect line of clothes for a woman on the go–the Travelers line from Chico’s. Their market is a little on the older side, but it’s hard to beat the non-wrinkle fabric, classic colors and cuts, washable in the sink, drip dry, cool, comfortable, easy to dress up with some small accessories kind of clothes. I started buying a few pieces a year and building my travel wardrobe.

But y’all. The best part of these clothes for rich retirees? Elastic waists. Who’s got time for buttons that pop off or zippers that might get stuck when you’re headed to the midnight buffet on a cruise? Not me.

For years, I have fallen under the spell of the elastic waistband. When I started having babies, I didn’t buy maternity clothes–I bought more Travelers stuff. When I quit having babies but kept on eating for two? I stayed in the Travelers clothes. Soooo comfy! Pretty soon, all my pants were fat pants.

Then along came Casual Friday to ruin it. I put on a pair of jeans a couple of weeks ago and thought I would suffocate by lunch time. Whew! That waistband didn’t have any GIVE to it. Every time I bent over, I lost my breath. There was no comfortable way to sit without that stiff fabric cutting into my side meat. Every part of me struggled against the confines…of my jeans.

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As I sat behind my desk after lunch, I popped open the button and snuck the zipper down so my bellybutton could get back to its normal shape. When the sweet rush of freedom tingled over me, I remembered a powerful statement I heard at BlogHer:

“The absence of privilege feels like oppression to them.”

Brianna Wu, a developer of gaming about women and for women, said that in relation to sexism in the workplace, how when privileged white males have to play on a level field, they feel like they are being robbed.

So…what IS privilege? We talk about it a lot lately as we try to talk about inequalities in our society. White privilege, male privilege, cis privilege, economic privilege, the privilege of access. Privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”

What does that have to do with my fat pants and Casual Friday? Well, for years, I’ve lived with a special advantage, an immunity to my own choices. I’ve gained 50 pounds and I’m still wearing the same pants. In my mind, I am not living with any special advantage. I just seem to be able to eat whatever I want and never exercise and my pants still fit! No matter what choices I make, my world (or at least my pants) adapted itself to allow those choices. To excuse those choices.

The simplest definition of privilege is–wiggle room. Having the space to move through the world and feeling confident that the world will allow you some grace. Being able to change lanes without signaling and not worrying about being arrested. Being able to laugh with your book club without being kicked off a train. Being able to invite friends to a pool party.

When you have grown up with privilege, the absence of privilege feels like oppression.

When’s the last time you felt oppressed? Was it true unfairness or was it a removal of privilege? I remember when our hospital made all employees start clocking in, even salaried. I was kind of miffed…that I was going to have to do the same procedure everyone else was expected to do to prove I was at work. Or when we had to start parking in a specific place…I had always been able to park closer to the building. (Note to self: think about parking farther away re: fat pants)

Privilege can be really tough to see when you are living inside it. Like the princess, who when told that starving peasants rioted because they didn’t have bread, replied, “Then let them eat cake!” Duh. That’s privilege. Life wouldn’t be so hard for you if you would just….be me.

So there you have it. Fat pants, privilege, oppression, a little history, and cake.

Mmmm…did somebody say CAKE?

 

“We’ll Die Walking”: Lessons From Reading In a Hospital

Remember when you could sit down and read a book for a couple of hours? Yeah, me too. That was before kids. I read whenever, wherever, and however I can these days.

Percy Fawcett, explorer

Percy Fawcett, explorer

Yesterday morning, I had a strange experience while reading on my walk into work. I’m halfway through “The Lost City of Z,” which my friend Jill loaned to me last January and I’m finally getting around to. I can’t give you any spoilers because I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s really good (thanks, Jilly!). It’s the story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer in the Amazon who set off in 1925 to search for a city of gold and ended up vanishing into the jungle without a trace. Or maybe there are traces later, but like I said, not finished yet.

I was engrossed in the story of one of Fawcett’s early expeditions, a trek to find the source of the Verde River between Bolivia and Brasil. The expedition hit snags and Fawcett and his men–after a few bad decisions about how much canned food to carry–ended up starving in the jungle next to a poisoned river with nary a fish. Fawcett refused to turn back, even though most of his men were falling ill from the fevers brought by the relentless mosquitos and vampire bats.

There I was, hurrying to the end of the chapter in hopes that I could find out how the party made it out alive before I had to clock in. My face buried in the book, I trekked up the sidewalk, right at the crepe myrtles, left at the rosemary, then I ducked into the building through the side door under the Rehab pool. A wall of icy air-conditioning hit me but I never looked up from the page. Just like Fawcett in the “green hell,” I was confident that I could find my way.

PET scan of the brain

PET scan of the brain

No one is ever in that hallway. The only thing back there is a storage closet and the back entrance to the P.E.T. scan area. What’s a PET scan, you might ask? That’s a kind of radiology test where some highly skilled people put a radioactive tracer in you then take a picture or Positron Emission Tomograph to map out disease activity in your body. It’s the test that shows you if cancer has spread. When cancer survivors say they have to go in for a scan, it’s probably a PET scan to monitor the progress or remission of their disease. A PET scan explores the previously invisible life of our organs. In a way, it’s like Fawcett heading off into the jungle hoping to find treasures and fearing what may be revealed.

Like I said, that hallway is safe for reading because no one is ever back there. But that morning, I had to pull up short before tripping right over a group of three people. They walked out of the PET scan doors in a cluster–the radiology tech in his sage green scrubs, a young woman carrying two purses and a sheaf of papers, and one women of about sixty, who looked to be carrying the world on her shoulders. They didn’t pay me any attention, there behind my book.

“We’ll get these read this afternoon, and your doctor will call you with the results,” he said, looking the older woman right in the eye and nodding gently. Neither woman spoke but they both nodded in return. He smacked the button on the wall that opens the doors to the Radiation Oncology department. They hesitated a second while the doors swung open then he led them through in silence. I waited in the hall for the doors to close behind them.

Walking through that spot, the spot where that woman had stood a second before, I felt like I was walking through a cloud of her fear. It was tangible, buzzing, a gray heaviness like a swarm of jungle mosquitos carrying yellow fever. That fear that a cancer patient feels, coming to the hospital for the scan that will bring good news or the worst news. The scan that reveals the next part of her life and how it will go. That ordinary woman seemed like Fawcett chopping his way into the jungle, one foot at a time, never knowing if the next moment would bring a viper or a city of gold.

I thought about that woman and her daughter, how their afternoon would stretch out before them until the jangle of the phone would send their hearts to the ground. I hoped the news would be good. Please, please, please let that scan be clear. Let her laugh with relief and let the tears that they cry today be tears of joy. I took a couple of breaths, thought about all the times Richard and I had waited for one test or another. Thumbs up, thumbs down–will our life go on?

I pressed the button for the elevator. As I waited, I was struck by this passage in the tale of the Verde River party:

The starving expedition. Fawcett far right.

The starving expedition had a camera but no food. Fawcett front right.

“Fawcett soon noticed that one of the men had vanished. He eventually came upon him sitting collapsed against a tree. Fawcett ordered the man to get up, but he begged Fawcett to let him die there. He refused to move, and Fawcett took out his knife. The blade gleamed before the man’s eyes; Fawcett ached with hunger. Waving the knife, Fawcett forced him to his feet. If we die, Fawcett said, we’ll die walking.”

– David Grann, The Lost City of Z

I thought of that woman and how her shoulders stooped. I had assumed she was carrying her fear of dying. But really, she wasn’t like the starving man who wanted to surrender to death. She wasn’t rolling over and giving up–she was still walking, still consulting with her doctors, still LIVING. Regardless of the results of her scan.

I don’t remember if Richard ever had a PET scan. With blood cancers, your cancer is everywhere from the get go, metastatic from square one.

I do know that he never gave up. The man looked at me not twelve hours before he died and mumbled through cracked and bloody lips: “I’m just going through a rough patch.” He insisted on living, right up until the moment he died. He never quit walking, and I followed him right through that jungle, right up to the gate of the golden city.

“If we die, we’ll die walking.”


Want to read it for yourself? Here’s a link!

Holding On to Something That’s Already Gone

There’s a ghost hanging around in my backyard. It’s not hurting anyone or anything, so I’ve been hesitant to let it go. All that’s left of it is a silvery outline of the vibrant thing that used to live there, but at least that silvery shadow is something I can see. Something I can hold on to because I’m not ready to let go.

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I fell hard for this hemlock tree on the afternoon that Richard and I closed on our house. Somehow, in our three visits before buying, I hadn’t noticed the hemlock tree on the right side of the backyard. I was too busy looking at the RIVER…we could have a river in our yard…WHAT? I mean, trees are nice, sure, but a river? Dang.

Once all the papers were signed and the front door key dangled on my keychain, I had more time to look around. Among all the pines and the redbuds and the scraggly crepe myrtles and the dogwoods–all the ordinary trees of my life–there stood a hemlock. I’d only seen them on weekend hikes in the North Georgia mountains. Just saying the name “hemlock” made me think of Socrates and that painting of him on his deathbed, about to drink the poison. (Just so you know, that’s the herb hemlock, not the tree. These are the kinds of things you Google when you have a hemlock tree nearby.)

One September, I made a tough choice to help the hemlock. A cherry tree crowded it from one side. Daddy and Joe told me that they could cut down the cherry to give the hemlock room to fill out. Cut down a cherry tree? I cannot tell a lie–I thought they were crazy to sacrifice something beautiful for a conifer. Couldn’t they both stay? But Daddy and Joe knew more about this sort of thing than I did, so I gave the OK–I chose the hemlock over the cherry. I hid inside while they brought the cherry down. Their advice proved right. The hemlock flourished and its deep green needles erased the memory of the cherry tree.

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Those needles and tiny cones have been fading for a couple of years now. I told myself that it might be some kind of molting process. Maybe this was something that hemlocks DO now and then–turn silver and drop all their needles. The fading started at the top one year then worked its way down the trunk. The bottom branches were still green! It could bounce back, right?

I didn’t want to admit it–the tree was already a ghost by the time I accepted it. One day, a handyman looking for work rang the doorbell. He handed me his card and said, “I can clear out trees–like that big dead one you got in the back.” I practically clutched my pearls at his temerity. People could see it from the road. I had to deal with the ghost.

It’s an eyesore now. And that gets me thinking about Fartbuster and our divorce and the end of relationships in general.

I’m missing what it used to be and holding on to what’s left of it. I’m holding on to something that’s already gone.

It took a year to break from Fartbuster. We separated our daily lives when he moved out. We separated our finances when he stuck me with all the bills and the mortgage. We still went to therapy and planned on getting back together, but my love for him was turning silver, eaten away from the inside after his affair. I filled my own weekends. I went to work. I read books and I wrote and I walked the dogs and I went to movies–all on my own. I built myself a pleasant life. But when it was time to really sign the papers, I sat on my therapist’s couch and sobbed, “How can I live without him?”

She called Bullshit on that real quick. “Ashley. On a daily basis, what does he add to your life?”

Um.

One drama soaked phone call and this gaping hole in my heart where I used to be able to trust people?

She helped me see that I was holding on to something that was already gone.

Last night, a cracking thunderstorm rolled through after dark. I was sitting on the sofa when a deafening pop shook the house. It was loud enough to make the cats skitter and Huck’s ears stand up. My first thought was, “Did it get the hemlock?” Will my decision be made for me?

Like with the end of most things, the decision has been made before we let it into our hearts.

I got up early this morning to write. I’m sitting here on the screened porch in the black dark of pre-dawn, waiting to see if the ghost is still here.

6 Reasons to Throw a Snot-Slingin’ Fit: Back to School Edition

  1. You are reminded that your child is not “regular.”

Monday, I took Carlos to his school to figure out after school care. His school doesn’t have an after school program on-site, so I’ve been talking to them since last spring about options. If he has to ride a bus somewhere, can he ride it to his sister’s school? If not, which school will take him? Does it need to be the school that handles autism students? Will his IEP cover after school accommodations or do I have to send him to a holding pen every afternoon for a few hours? lucy5

I told the receptionist that I was confused and she said, “Just register him at the other school.” Huh? I’m supposed to show up with a kid who doesn’t go there and inform them that he will be arriving by bus every afternoon to a strange environment with people he’s never seen? I asked her to explain it again and she said, “If he were a REGULAR student, it would all make sense, but he’s Special Ed.”

My mouth dropped open.

And here’s why I cried over that: this is the special school where he’s supposed to BE “regular.” I’ve been counting the days to get him back into an environment where people understand Carlos and know how to help him flourish. We survived a summer of daycare where he was out of control and they didn’t have the staff and training to meet special needs. This was supposed to BE the safe place, so “regular” kind of stung.

  1. You spend 2 hours filling out forms so someone can figure out WHY he isn’t “regular.”

I put in a day at work, THEN two hours of running around from school to school, THEN trying to figure out rules that were provided in Spanish because my kid is named Carlos, THEN having a 90-minute “come to Jesus” meeting with one kid who has made some dumb choices, THEN getting a hot fresh dinner on the table, THEN getting supplies and everything ready for school….THEN I sat down at the dining room table to fill out school forms and a thick Parent Questionnaire from the Marcus Center for Autism.

Can your child stand on one foot? When did child first stand on one foot? Can other members of your family stand on one foot? How many extended family members have now or have every experienced problems while standing on one foot? Do you like feet?

Is your child cruel to animals? How much weight did mother gain with pregnancy? Did your child have hiccups in utero?

lucy4Two hours later, I had it filled out. I also felt like the worst mother on earth because I honestly couldn’t remember if he had hiccups in utero. I know Vivi did–every night at 10:30 for a couple of months. It was all new with her and I had time to pay attention to every little thing. Did I notice with Carlos and forget? Did I not notice? What else have I not noticed? So I cried about fetal hiccups.

  1. You have to drop him at school even though he says, “It’s too scawy, Mama.”

Even after meeting his teacher and exploring the room the day before, even with parking and walking him in, even with the Superman shirt and the Spiderman back pack…it was too much for him. He shrieked and collapsed on the doormat in the hallway. He pressed his hands to his ears and curled into a tight ball. I patted and clucked and cooed as the kids and parents passed around us like a rock in a stream.

At least he’s got more words this year to tell me what’s going on. He said, “It’s too scawy, Mama.” I didn’t have any answer to that. It is too scary, honey. And most of the time we have to do scary things anyway.

It only took a few minutes. When I left, he was happily building a robot at his table. But I cried once I made it to the car, because I don’t have an answer when it’s just too scary.

  1. You sit through a hellatious car rider line only to find that your son was put on the bus…to somewhere.

lucy3Yep. Since we didn’t have anywhere to send him after school, I left work at 2:30 and ended up 7621st in line for the car rider pickup. And my air conditioning went out. And two people cut in line and almost got cut.

But the best part was when I got to the front of the line after 45 minutes and his teacher met me with a panicked look and the words, “Carlos got on the bus.” I pulled my car up on the curb and started crying right then and there. They had to call the bus depot and find out which bus. They had to call the bus and tell them to come back. They had to explain all this to me as I stood there in the heat, wiping snot and tears onto the sleeve of my work blouse.

His teacher did a great job of handling the mistake and my feelings. The bus pulled up and Carlos waved to me from the window. We got in the car and he had a strawberry milkshake to celebrate his first day. I cried in the McDonalds drive-thru.

  1. You get snapped at for wanting to park and walk your son into class instead of shoving him out onto the sidewalk from the car rider lane.

This morning, I got there early. I wanted Carlos to have plenty of time and support to make the transition. I sat through the drop off line. I turned from the line into the parking lot and some lady with a walkie-talkie shouts, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? This is only for Early Learning!”

lucy2Um…I’m taking my son to his classroom…at EARLY LEARNING. What the fuck do you think I’m doing with a kid, a back pack, a car, a turn signal, and a parking lot with four out of 89 spaces occupied?

So maybe I didn’t say exactly that. I walked my kid inside, past the fuming walkie-talkie. I cried a little with rage but I didn’t let him see me. I cried when the traffic director told me that it was OK to do exactly what I had done and I cried some more when I got into the car. I got myself together then checked my email…

  1. You get an email from the autism center that just says, “AGAIN….forms sent in error.”

That’s all. That was the terse reply to my email with the questionnaire, the IEP, an apology for the forms being one day late because they were sent to us while we were out of town.  So I didn’t need to do all that and you already told me? Seems I didn’t get that voicemail because I’ve been too busy getting those forms filled out, hunting down a copy of the IEP that has to be revised because it had a typo on it…and apologizing for the forms being one day late. But I am the asshole for bothering you. Okeydoke. I’ll just be over here crying.

….I. AM. DONE.

Climbing the Lifeguard Chair

“Carlos, look at Mommy so I know you’re listening to me.”

He pushed wet hair out of his eyes and turned to listen. “Mommy and Daddy are right here with you, but if you ever think you’re lost, look for that big red chair. See the red umbrella? That woman is the lifeguard–she’s like the teacher in charge of the beach.”

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I’m sure all he heard was “Blah blah blah BEACH!” but I do my best to prepare the kids for worst case scenarios. Well, Sharknado is probably worse but the forecast didn’t call for sharks or nados.

By the end of a half way rainy day, all that hovering over my kids had really started to wear me out. We enjoyed a delightful morning of cinnamon rolls and playing in the waves, but after the rainy afternoon with no naps, then the disappointing “let’s go wander around” car trip, and the mediocre $75 dinner, followed by a rousing contest of “who can scream loudest in the minivan?”…this mama was shot. All that wonderful Relaxation and Family Time had solidified into a tightness in my chest that felt a lot like Shut the Hell Up and Here, Have Some More Screen Time.

So G suggested I take a walk by myself. Well, not technically by myself because I took my friend, Mr. Wine Sippy Cup with me. I left my Tevas on the steps and walked south, into the wind. I walked past couples holding hands, boys throwing a glow in the dark frisbee, moms trying to keep kids who were still dressed for dinner out of the waves. I walked past one, two, three lifeguard chairs. The wind blew so hard that tufts of sea foam from the waves scurried up the sand and into the dunes, like little white mice. I walked past a party on the verANDahhhh of the fancy hotel.

I didn’t want to turn back yet, but the daylight had gone. At the first lifeguard chair that I passed on the return, four feet swung against the wooden steps and two heads leaned close for a kiss. I walked on, alone. At the next lifeguard chair, a teenage boy with long golden hair struggled to light a cigarette in the wind. Another ways down the beach, and I found the third lifeguard chair–the one I had pointed out to Carlos in the morning–standing empty under the dark night clouds.

Mr. Sippy Cup and I didn’t think twice. We scaled up the wide wooden slats of the chair and faced into the wind. The breeze actually smelled different up there, saltier and clean. Even after the walking, my chest sat tight, filled with anxiety. Second day of vacation and my kids were already bat shit crazy. I breathed in three parts–belly, chest, collar bones–and felt the wind move into me.

I remembered the first time I had climbed into the lifeguard chair, 25 or 26 years ago. I had gone for a beach weekend with some friends. Late at night, we went for a walk on the beach and discovered an empty lifeguard chair. Feeling bold, I climbed into it and a guy I had known for years climbed in beside me. He was good-looking and smart and kind and suddenly there beside me, up above the rest of the world.  I “technically” had a boyfriend and this fellow wasn’t him. I didn’t love my boyfriend anymore yet was too confused to know how to end a relationship without the next one lined up. So when my friend climbed up there with me, I remember being hit with a strong feeling. I wanted him, this guy, to love me. To decide things for me. To find me where I was lost and pull me onto a path. Any path. I just wanted him to love me.

Nothing came of it, that first time I climbed into a lifeguard’s chair. Tonight while I sat up in the wind for a second time, 25 years later, I thought about love and how for so many years, I thought it was something that would come to me, not from me. That my feeling lost could be fixed by someone else.

No. The woman in the lifeguard chair, the one to search for if I think I might be lost? It was me all along.

The Apple and The Tree

There was zero chance that this week would go smoothly for Carlos. Too much change happening at once. He’s moving up and moving on from the school he has attended since he was 3 months old. He started off cranky today and it went downhill from there.

And if I’m being honest, I’m having some trouble with my feelings, too. Neither of us handles change very easily. Each time he has moved rooms–from babies to crawlers to walkers to twos to big kids–my heart has clenched up in fear that he’s going to hit a bad spot and fail to thrive.

He’s reached the end of the hallway–his time at this school is ending. It really hit me yesterday. The teachers are switching out the door decorations and the displays in the hall. Time for a “back to school” theme with a tree and a basket of apples under the tree, with each kid’s name done in glitter on the construction paper apple. Carlos’ apple was tucked in his cubby, brand new and never to be hung on the wall.

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He’s switching all the way to pre-K. We both are. I’m going to miss these kids so much. There’s Addy, who has been my friend since the day I saw her through her tears. There’s Sid, the Christmas Kid. Maggie who gives me hugs every day. Patrick and William and Magnus and Jonathan and Crawford–a pack of little blond boys who are hard to tell apart. Bailey and Emmie and Arly and Alya, who all want to be Elsa. Charlie, who reports to me every day whether Carlos has behaved himself.

Carlos and I were both out of sorts today when we arrived. I think it showed, because when Addy turned to wave at me, she said, “Hi! Your hair looks pretty today! Hi! You look pretty! Hi!”

The kids were coloring starfish and shells, ready to make a sandy scene on some ocean blue paper. Except for Carlos. He yelled and curled into a ball. The noise startled him and I think he was mad that it wasn’t outside time. I tried to cajole him, convince him, persuade him to sit in his seat at the lady bug table and participate. He wasn’t having it. I rubbed his back while he flopped on the circle rug. I followed him to the trucks center and told him to join the group. Nope. Not happening. No way.

So I detached from the struggle and sat my own butt down in his tiny blue chair at the lady bug table. I handed out crayons and marveled over the lovely coloring that each child had done. Tiny, dark-eyed Alya showed me her careful purple starfish. I told her that purple is one of my favorite colors. Carlos came over to see what we were doing, but yelled when I spoke to him. I sighed and shook my head.

Alya caught my eye and said, “Carlos is being…very Carlosy today.”

Yes, yes he is. This class of kids is used to seeing my kid pitch a fit, throw a tantrum, melt it down. I’m sure some of them will be relieved that his noise will be somewhere else.

But he’s doing his best. He’s just…Carlosy. Thank you, tiny girl, for reminding me to see my son for himself. He’s being Carlosy and I was being too Ashleyish to remember that. Poor kid has A LOT going on. End of summer, linguistic leaps, new school, friends leaving. He’s still learning how to navigate the world of groups and sometimes coloring is just too much to ask.

We’ll get used to a new classroom and a new routine. I’ll make some friends among the new kids in pre-K and Carlos will too. We’ll both probably kick and fuss a bit and express our anxiety in different ways, but we’ll figure it out. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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