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Day 12: Chores

I have two brothers, one slightly older and one much younger. My parents got divorced (a good thing, believe me) as I entered my tween years, and my mom worked several jobs and rented out rooms to keep us in the same house and schools while my dad moved several times, got remarried, and bought tons of cool stuff for himself and his new family instead of paying child support. Why, divorced dads? Why?

Anyway. The slightly older brother and I were responsible for basic chores: vacuuming, mopping, dishes, bathrooms, etc. I don’t remember dusting but I think we did our own laundry because I definitely remember the creepy, damp, spidery basement. With dirt floors in some areas. I think. Memories are tricky.

Anyway. I don’t remember who decided on a chore chart to keep things fair, but my money’s on mom. She told me, when I was in college, that she used managerial techniques on us all the time because she figured they would work just as well at home as in the office. In other words, she raised us like a boss.

Anyway. Chores. There was a chart. A handwritten chart that was redrawn once a month or so, probably by me, “the creative one.” We each had a mix of easy and crappy jobs and we switched once a week so that nobody was stuck doing the same things forever. In theory, it was a perfect plan. In practice, though, it did not work, especially for me, because my older brother, lovely grownup though he is, liked to make up his own rules. He did it when we played Monopoly (which is why I stopped playing with him) and he did it with the damn chore chart. He didn’t have to be clever about it, though: he just didn’t do his chores. It was the perfect plan, really.

Because I kind of like cleaning.

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It happens, not every day, but often enough that it doesn’t bug me and I’ve come to expect it: “Are you his grandma?” “Your grandson is so cute!” Sometimes it’s a kid making the assumption, but not always.

I don’t dye my hair, so it’s pretty obvious that I’m not in my 30s. I only know one mom of a kid my son’s age who is older than me. It may be weird from an outsider’s perspective, but it’s normal to me, and I think there are advantages. I’m a fully-formed adult — I can’t imagine being a mom in my late 20s or early 30s when I was still figuring myself out. I know what I will and won’t put up with, from my kid and the adults I interact with as part of being a parent.

There are disadvantages too, of course. I’m not as physically robust as I would like to be, and that sometimes limits what I can do with my six-year-old. But mostly, I worry about not being around when my kid is older. I want to see his whole life, or at least settled in his own family or community, and unlike younger parents, I can’t assume I’ll be around for all of that. Not that anyone can — death isn’t inextricably linked to age.

Not according to the Boo — he’s convinced that everyone dies when they’re 100, though he’s fuzzy on the mechanics of exactly how that happens. He sometimes calculates how old he’ll be when my time is up. It’s charming and sad, and it gives us an opportunity to talk about death.

Yes, an opportunity. As a culture, we don’t talk about death enough, and I want my son to be aware of it so he’s better prepared to face it.

Just one of the many fun tasks of parenting.

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For most of last year, the Boo refused to ride the bus, so I dropped him off and picked him up at school. Every day. And because his school has outgrown its footprint, it’s a time-sucking cluster of an experience that gives me hives.

So when he decided, pretty much on his own, that he wanted to ride the bus back in February, I was elated. I got a bunch of time back, and it seemed he was becoming more independent, which struck me as a good and natural thing. He developed friendships with a few kids he rode with, and playdates ensued. Heaven on earth.

And yet, as good as I feel about this developmental milestone, sometimes he tells me stories about the bus that give me pause. Such as, one day a kid squirted water on him for no apparent reason. Another time, a kid made fun of him for being sad because he missed me. When he tells me these things, I wonder: Is this normal bus “stuff”? What really happens during that ride with all those kids, and a driver whose job is to keep them safe (at which she does a great job, by the way), and several video cameras?

Yes, video cameras. Plural. On school buses. I’ll just leave that right there.

When the Boo tells me about something odd/upsetting that happened on the bus, I counsel him as best I can: Stand up for yourself. Sit with a buddy. Speak up for anyone who’s being bothered. But I don’t offer to start driving him to school again. We believe it’s important for him to learn how to deal with all kinds of people, and the bus seems to be an excellent teaching ground for that. And so far, there doesn’t seem to be anything alarming happening during his ten-minute rides. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a little digging, so I went down to the basement and found a subject matter expert: The Boo. He was slightly reluctant to participate but was won over by the promise of doing a bit of typing.

Q: What happens on the bus?

A: Well there are stops and they um you can either get dropped off or picked up.

Q: What do kids do on the bus?

A: Well some kids play, some kids sit around.

Q: How do kids behave on the bus?

A: Some behave bad and some behave good.

Q: What kinds of things do the bad behaving kids do?

A: Pfft. Switch seats. Crawl under the seats.

Q: That seems dangerous. Does the bus driver know?

A: Yes! Sometimes.

Q: What does she do about it?

A: She either tells them to stop a hundred times or makes assigned seats.

Q: That seems like a great idea. On a scale of 1 to 10,

A: Make it 100! Please?

Q: Okay, on a scale of 1 to 100, how much do you like riding the bus?

A: 20.

Q: 20. Why only 20?

A: I don’t have an answer for that.

Q: Last question. What’s your favorite thing about riding the bus?

A: Nothing.

Q: Nothing?!

A: I can’t pick anything. Everything’s so good and I don’t want to give it away. It’s my secret business.

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  1. The light in the late afternoon has been magical on days when it’s not raining.
  2. So many new female elected officials!
  3. So many new female elected officials who are not caucasian!
  4. Everyone in my family is healthy.
  5. The tendinitis in my foot is getting better.
  6. There are so many pastries I haven’t tried yet.
  7. My sweet, funny, happy, healthy, whip-smart son.
  8. Amazing election turnout, finally.
  9. Stacey Abrams.
  10. I’m writing again.
  11. Heather B. Armstrong of Dooce.
  12. Glennon Doyle Melton of Together Rising.
  13. Smithsonian Magazine.
  14. Daguerreotypes.
  15. Music.



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Ten days and eight posts have taught me a few things:

  1. I have time to write every day.
  2. I have ideas to write about every day.
  3. If I’m going to write, it has to be in the morning before the kid gets up. Otherwise, poof, there goes the day.

That pretty much says it all right there. I’m going to keep going though — and keep to my “first thing” writing schedule.

So. Lately I’ve been feeling very fortunate. I live in a comfortable house in a wonderful neighborhood in a great school district. We have really good health insurance and good health to go with it. We voted as a family yesterday, and were happy to do our civic duty. But what do we do with all of that? Is it enough to acknowledge that we have a good life, or are we obligated to do something with our good fortune? Naturally we donate to charities and participate in food drives, but should we be doing more? And if so, how do we figure out what to do?

On the flip side, not long ago I read part of a (super long and tedious) biography of Berenice Abbott (amazing pioneering 1920s-60s American photographer who also happened to be openly lesbian). At one point the book quotes her talking about the pride she and her 1920s Parisian artist friends took in living well. It wasn’t about money (they didn’t have or need much), or things, but enjoying what they did have and doing exactly what they wanted to do. It struck me as a liberating way of being in a world that’s all about what’s trending on Twitter and the latest food fad. Perhaps I should go forth, happily eating croissants when I feel like it.

I have no real conclusion to draw — these are the thoughts that float around in my head all the time and I wanted to give them some air. But I believe they’re worth thinking about, and maybe acting on.

I’ll let you know if I get it figured out.

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I missed writing yesterday, which I thought about sitting down to do but never actually did because apparently I go into a wormhole on Sundays. It’s a wormhole built of many tasks and activities: visiting with family, fetching the week’s groceries, doing the usual amount of laundry, plus a birthday (hence the recipe above) AND shopping for Divali.

Divali will be a needle-scratch for many of you. It’s a major Hindu holiday dealing with the triumph of light over darkness — and since my husband practices Hinduism, we celebrate it, and there are things that have to happen prior to it. Usually we source our sparklers from a kind co-worker who is better prepared and can spare a few. Picking up fruit and flowers for the puja (home offerings/blessings ceremony) is my task, and absolutely no big deal whatsoever. Apples, grapes, oranges, bananas, a bouquet of something or other, and a small container of milk. I could do it in my sleep. It’s the clothes shopping that always sneaks up on me.

Divali requires new clothes. A whole outfit’s worth. And they can’t be black, which poses a challenge for neutrals-loving me. Everyone in the house has to have new clothes, but my son tends to have a stockpile of things sent from India he hasn’t worn yet, and my husband typically holds things back for Divali.

Not me. I tromp off to the mall every year under the pressure of a looming deadline, seething with a deep hatred of both malls and trying on pants. See, typically I order 10 pairs of pants online whilst wearing pajamas like a sensible person. Then I try them on in the comfort of my own home, and return the 9 pairs that don’t work. Easy. Repeat as necessary. More coffee, please.

Not this time, though. This time I was doomed to do battle with the Sunday bargain-hunters while dodging the Christmas stuff that’s already clogging the aisles. I wasn’t that worried though, because I brought a secret weapon: my mom. She’s like a shopping good luck charm with the bonus feature of honest but kind feedback. She’s also willing to trek back to the rack WAY on the other side of the store to dig for a better color or a different size.

After a reasonable length of time I found my Divali outfit, and then I treated us to fancy coffees, because it is a Shopping Law regardless of the reason one is shopping or the degree of success: Shopping requires treats.

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Today’s post is photo-driven because that’s just how I’m feeling. Also, it’s fun to walk around the house and think about why I like what I like.

My dad took this photo a long time ago at a family property in Northern Michigan; if the date is right my mom may have been pregnant with me when it was taken. It’s been with me, always in my bedroom, since at least college. Wish I knew who did the calligraphy tag, which is rather hilariously just pasted on there.


This was given to me by a student when I was teaching English in Japan in the early ’90s. She knew I loved sumo; I wish she knew I still love this clock even though I can’t quite remember which wrestler it’s supposed to be. The alarm mimics the patter of a sumo referee during a match, but the language is replaced with words that translate to “get up, get up, get up” which is actually a pretty fun way to wake up. Pushing his topknot down turns the alarm off.


My mom got wacky clocks for all three of us at an art fair maybe 15 years ago. Mine’s in the bathroom, because the crazy colors actually do help on grey mornings.


A shower curtain my husband found online when we were sprucing up the baby’s bathroom and looking for something that was kid-friendly but could transition to post-baby life. Similarly to the clock, it cheers me up in the mornings.


A wedding gift from old, dear friends. It mesmerizes me.

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Ready or not, the weekend is upon us, and there are things to look forward to: downtime, getting together with friends, watching the Boo at his Ninja class (obstacle courses and gymnastics, NOT throwing stars). There are also the usual chores: laundry, cleaning, laundry, dishes, and of course laundry. Oh, and the time change.

And then there’s the funeral for a childhood friend. He died a few weeks ago as the result of addiction. He had a four-year-old son and a partner who loved him. He was massively talented, sweet, funny and kind. It is heartbreaking and enraging that he is gone, and yet in many ways he was living on borrowed time, and many of us knew that, although most of us had been lulled into thinking he was “doing fine.” But none of us could have prevented his death, because addiction is a hellish beast of a chronic disease. Those who suffer from it often feel shame around relapses, and so they hide while the rest of us carry on, ignorant of their pain.

There will be many old friends at the memorial, and words and stories, food and drinks, but there will be no Josh. I keep thinking about how weird it will be to see and hear evidence of him everywhere, but not to be able to see him except in the images pasted to foamcore and projected on screens. I am dreading it, and yet I know I need it, because the heaviness of his death has been with me for weeks and it is time for it to be lifted.

Ready nor not, here it comes.

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Two days before Halloween, the Boo (actual nickname) decided he no longer wanted to be Luke Skywalker.

This was the first year I had bought him a costume, and I had mixed feelings about that. Yes, it was easy and convenient, and that’s how I like to do most of my non-grocery shopping. Three or four clicks in my pajamas, and on to the next task. But it was cheap polyester garbage with built-in obsolescence and I already have visions of it ending up in a landfill. And yet, he loved it, or more accurately, he loved being Luke Skywalker, stepping into those brave Jedi shoes for a while and forgetting about spelling tests and riding the bus.

And then a few weekends ago we decided he was ready to watch the first Harry Potter movie. It scared him a bit, and he had questions, mostly about why the Dursleys are so mean to Harry and how Voldemort gets around. But he liked it enough that he wanted to watch it again, and start reading the book (which means me reading the book to him). And so, his fickle movie-based affections moved the Halloween needle to Harry Potter.

The Boo has dark, unruly hair. He wears glasses, and though they are not round, they are dark enough to pass as black. A kind work friend, hearing my last-minute tale of woe, offered to bring in the Griffindor cloak her kids had worn when they had been Harry Potter/Hermione Granger. I sent the Boo outside to find a straight stick, dug out the silver spray paint, and we made a wand. The kids are not allowed to apply makeup when they change into their costumes at school, so as we waited for the bus I drew a lightning-bolt scar on the Boo’s forehead. (Lucky I had a black pen in my purse!)

My husband took the Boo trick-or-treating this year, and reported that the teenage girls were agog at his costume. A mom friend texted me to say how cute he looked. My family cracked up at the video of his Halloween spell: “Expectium Candium Pleasium!”

All this to say, it’s the costume he was meant to wear all along.

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Ah, shit.

One of my biggest parenting challenges has been putting the lid on swearing when my kid is around. I was older than average when I had him, and pretty set in my ways, and not to blame my parents or anything but my dad was also fond of swearing. So maybe it’s hereditary. Or maybe I just don’t see what the big deal is.

See, to me, with a few exceptions for words that are overloaded with cultural nastiness, words are just words. Their job is to help us express ourselves. And swear words, curse words, cuss words, whatever you want to call them, are just nifty little options in our verbal paintbox.

I’ve always admired Will Smith for keeping his work “clean,” and I get why he does that, I think, but that is not my path in life. Which is not to say that I walk around dropping F-bombs constantly either. I’m somewhere in the middle, with a reasonable level of social sensitivity, though I have been known to say “crap” and “BS” at work.

One of my personal favorites (and what I say in front of my six-year-old every now and then, usually when I’m trying to get us out the door in the morning) is “shit.” Sometimes I substitute “sugar” if I’m in public, or the German “Scheisse,” although once I did that in the middle of Target and apparently the people with me in the cookie aisle understood German because HOLY SHIT did that mom give me a sour-ass look. Which just made me laugh really hard once they’d walked away.

See? Swear words are the gateway to fun!

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