reading, writing and reasonableness

I am pro-school.

Pro-education.

Pro-academia.

Pro-books, college-rule paper, graph paper, poster board, dictionaries, pink erasers, messy desks, atlases, recesses and fresh bottles of Elmer’s School Glue.

I love history, and hate math, like a normal person. I still grimace at the memory of the Presidential Fitness test, in which the only event I could complete with any confidence was the Shuttle Run. (Only recently did it occur to me President Reagan didn’t wake up, do his Chin-Ups, the Sit & Reach and the Shuttle Run before heading over to the Oval Office to keep “Red Dawn” from happening in real life. If he was making us do the Shuttle Run, he should have been doing it too.)

Like you, I took Home Economics, Drama, Band, Journalism, Speech & Debate, Photography and German. And, like you, it turns out I was terrible at some things and pretty good at other things, which I guess, is one of the coolest parts of our shared human experience.

But now I’m grown and don’t remember any German and as my kids will be quick to tell you, very little Home Ec. I have a high school sophomore and a fourth grader which gives us an uncomfortable front row seat to how much school has changed since the olden days, and how it has also weirdly stayed the same.

I never thought though, when I was actively hating Algebra from my graffiti-ridden classroom desk (only minimal graffiti from me) that I would one day get to re-live it through my kids, and hate it all over again, all the while wondering if I should pretend that I love it and use it all the time. “Just the other day, I was trying to figure out how much wall-to-wall shag carpet I would need, while slicing a pie ten ways, and figuring out how many rulers I can buy with 11 cents.”

Somehow, totally objective black and white math is different, having made way for creative thinking and areas of gray; adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing – the terminology is different, the methods are new.

Apparently my 1984 method of multiplying is the Shuttle Run of Math. I haven’t been excited to learn the new stuff, until this week. When the fourth grader unzipped his backpack, pulled out the red homework folder (the folder of doom), and a workbook sheet, simply entitled, “Reasonableness.”

Reasonableness

His assignment and lesson for the day was… Reasonableness.

Johan is selling baseball cards for $.45 apiece. He is selling 8 cards and says he’ll make $32.40

Now, is that reasonable? No, it’s not. Johan is being ridiculous.

I’ve never been more excited about new math! In fact, I think half of a school year could easily be spent on this one topic. The other half can go to state capitals and quiet reading, but September through mid-January? Reasonableness. In fact, more kids should major in Reasonableness, and shoot for the stars, break the glass ceiling and become Doctors of Reasonableness!

Why stop at Reasonableness?

“What do you have 3rd period?”

“Humility. You?”

“Oh, I have Honor.”

“Honors English?”

“No, just Honor.”

“Oh, right, I hear the teacher’s amazing.”

Generosity. Self-Control. Respect. Perseverance. Humor. Spelling for the Texting Generation. Common Sense.

I’ve started planning the curriculum.

Johan has two hours to get his homework done, do his chores, eat dinner, and enjoy some time spent talking to the family who loves him and wants to hear about his day. Knowing homework takes an hour, chores take 15 minutes, dinner usually a half hour, and that his parents love him very much, how much time should Johan budget for Snapchat? No, Johan, not two hours.

Your mom’s had a long day of… laundry? Looking at your baby pictures? Working? Coming up with stuff to bug you about? (Who knows what moms do all day, am I right?) Anyway, she looks more tired than usual. She is holding a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and a frozen bag of peas. Is it a good idea to say, “Is that what we’re having for dinner?” No, Johan, it is not.

You use the last of the paper in your shared printer. Do you a) alert somebody b) pretend you did not notice and hurry away c) walk the 10 feet to the storage closet, get a fresh ream of paper, and fill the tray? You fill the dang tray, Johan.

Here, let me give you the answers for the next ten questions.

Hold the door.

Give him his money back.

Don’t say anything to her.

Tell him, but in the kindest way possible.

Put gas in the tank.

Write a thank you note.

Manage your expectations.

Take out the garbage.

Invite her to go with you.

Leave the 20% tip.

And don’t forget about the advanced course everybody should aspire to – Reasonableness with Oneself.

It’s been the longest week ever. Your kid, Johan has been a real handful. You haven’t been to the gym, and it feels like forever since you’ve practiced a Shuttle Run. Everybody else makes it to the gym; why can’t you? Everybody else has it together. Why don’t you? Everybody else knows what they’re doing with their life, why don’t you?

Correct Answer: Nobody has it together all of the time, and don’t worry about what those other people are doing. You got a chicken and a vegetable on the table this week, and kept your cool with Johan, and that’s pretty good. Take a nap, watch some TV, and just like, make yourself a really good to-do list for next week. It’s reasonable to assume that next week, is totally your week.

Thanks for reading. If you’re not too busy trying to figure out new math, follow me on Instagram, @colleenweems

you know more than you think you do (and don’t let those kids tell you otherwise)

FC Note

Most of them probably know better than to say it out loud, but I’m quite certain all of our kids collectively think we are idiots. I may not know how to start, stop, or pause a movie using Playstation controllers (I mean, those things don’t make any sense at all, I don’t even feel bad) So when my 9-year-old patiently holds out his hand for me to hand him whatever it is that doesn’t seem to be working, I have to audibly remind myself, and him, that I really do know quite a lot of stuff.  I’m guessing you do too, my fellow adult. And you know what? A good chunk of the stuff we know, is stuff those kids will never know. I almost feel sorry for them.

I was chatting about this at a graduation party with some savvy, know-a-lot, grown-up-lady friends. As required by the unwritten rules of attending a graduation party, we were lamenting the passage of time, and wondering what happened to those sweet little babies who used to think we were amazing. How can it be nearing the time for us to release them into the world?

I mean, they don’t even know how to properly put on pantyhose.

It’s a lost art. An art, we agreed, that might just disappear when we do. We know to scrunch the pantyhose down, and point our toes, after making sure there is not a jagged finger or toe nail in a five-mile radius. We expertly substitute the word “nylons” whenever we feel like it. I bet those kids don’t even know they can stop a run with clear nail polish.

You know what? If our lives depended on us neatly folding a note with a convenient pull-tab, to pass to a co-worker after the staff meeting, we could do it. I could do it in about 5 seconds, and have written your name and drawn stars all over it, and passed it to you without anybody else noticing.

We can tape a song from the radio onto a cassette. We may get a little bit of the DJ talking over the beginning of the song, but we could do it. Oh you don’t have a cassette player? Allow me to burn you a mix CD.

We can roller skate…backwards… on 8 wheels. If my knees weren’t bad, I would totally show you.

We can use a card catalog. And a Spiegel’s catalog. We could order blazers right now – in crimson AND navy – without ever having to get on a computer.

We can use an encyclopedia and a telephone book and a payphone and a Thomas Guide, and a microfiche machine. I think I have as many microfiche hours under my belt as I do parenting hours.

We know how to use an answering machine, a Walkman, a Discman, a floppy disc, and a fax machine. Granted, fax machines are the worst, but I can fax the heck out of an invoice or an insurance form.

We can fold maps, and we…can…fold…NEWSPAPERS.

FC Newspaper

Here’s my oldest kiddo, actively not knowing how to fold a newspaper.

We know how to make phone calls, and receive phone calls without being weird about it.

We know how to take care of a perm.

We know how to put a roll of film in to, and take it out of, a camera.

We knew how to find whoever was giving us a ride home from school/a concert/a movie with no phone to coordinate. It was practically like Outward Bound, or that show with Bear Grylls where you have to eat like, a pinecone in the wilderness, and look to the stars for guidance. It was almost exactly like that.

We know to program a VCR, and in a twist of fate, we know how to teach a mom how to program a VCR.

And though it’s not a skill, I’m grateful to have known the joy of a Jell-O pudding pop, how gross coffee used to be, and the satisfaction of reaching the end of a perfectly typed line on a typewriter.

And so, to the kids who think we’re idiots: don’t get too comfortable. The stuff you know today is cool, and great, and I would never wish irrelevancy on your burgeoning skills. But your day will come. And by “your day” I mean our day…the day you say, “I need to put on pantyhose/fax this form…..where’s my mom?”

how to bore yourself into having the best summer you will never forget.

FC REading

The Summer we…. read every day in these exact same positions

We’re all supposed to be experts. Especially if we dare write now and then, and then ask people to read it, we should have asserted our expertise in something. I have acquired mastery in a few things – obviously, cream cheese based dips, Disneyland, the long-gone TV shows Alias, and wearing t-shirts. I believe the term we are looking for to describe a person with this specific skillset and knowledge base, is lifestyle expert.

As a lifestyle expert, who, like you, is looking at weeks of summer stretching out ahead, I am anxious to get started filling those long summer days with the exact stuff that will make for great memories. I want this selfishly for me and, more selfishly, for my boys so they will someday reminisce with their own kids about how much fun they had with their amazing parents, and then for those future mystery kids to say, “Wow; Grandma and Grandpa are the best.”

“Well,” you might be saying, “tell us, Lifestyle Expert…tell us how to make a summer that we’ll never forget.”

After 40 summers of in-depth field research, the solution is clear: find something – even a tepid, mildly fun something – and then do it a lot. No! It’s not about manufacturing a new adventure every day! The key is intentionally indulgent repetition.

Look back at your own summers. No matter what cool big stuff you did, I’m guessing those long warm days blur together, and the parts of the blur you remember are: popsicles, water fights, sunburns, lounging around a pool/lake/park/beach with your friends, whatever your 4th of July tradition was, and probably a regular family trip to the mountains/lake/ocean/desert/city/backyard tent.

My kids may only have relatively few summers under their mom-made-us-wear-these belts, but they already start their reminiscing about just last summer with “We always…..” and then fill in the blanks like a couple of weathered older guys sitting on a porch, talking dreamily about their (mandatory) weekly trips to the library and subsequent reading time on the couch; and trudging through the cold San Francisco fog to the damp and dreary playground, and then to the burrito place, the market, and the pet store. Even lucky enough to take a dream vacation around the East Coast, our 9-year-old never fails to bring up how what he loved most were those nights we got back to our hotel room just in time to watch “The Tonight Show.” In 30 years, he may not really remember Paul Revere’s House, but I guarantee you, he’ll remember all of us, exhausted, sore, and punchy, lying there in the hotel air conditioning watching Jimmy Fallon.

I think of my own summers, and I instantly recall running errands with my mom every Monday. We’d zip around town in our giant Chrysler Cordoba, stopping at the bank, the post office, and finally McDonald’s, where I would think about how much paperwork is required to be an adult. It was easily 100 degrees every one of those Mondays, and my skin would sizzle against the car seats, and heaven forbid, the metal seatbelts. I’m sure I was a real peach when it was time to start our weekly Monday adventures, but, little did I know, in 30 years, I would treasure those trips as well as weeknight tennis with my dad. Not Wimbledon, or Palm Springs tennis, just regular old Tuesday night tennis on the old courts by the town’s recycling center.

Happy blurs aren’t just for childhoods. I treasure the summer I discovered the white wine spritzer, and the summer my self-tanner was full of *@&%$# glitter, and those 92 mostly-summer couch dates with my husband watching “Mad Men,” and the summer I listened to the new Franz Ferdinand album over and over, and the pre-drought summer I came home from work most nights to squirt the kids with a hose, (in a very classy sophisticated way before drinking my white wine spritzer).

Let’s look ahead to Summer 2016, and come up with some possibilities for stuff you always used to do in the Summer of 2015.

Remember last summer when we….

  • played Uno on the porch every night?
  • ate all that watermelon?
  • went to the library and checked out every one of Judy Blume’s/Beverly Cleary’s/David Sedaris’/Nora Ephron’s books? (They may not all be excellent choice’s for 9-year-olds.)
  • watched every episode of _____________. I hear they’re making a movie of it. That will be great!/terrible! (The Lifestyle Expert recommends “CHiPs.” It works well, because it is hilarious, and they are making a movie of it.)
  • Ate lunch in the park every weekend?
  • Always rode bikes to get Slurpees? But then we had to drink them in front of the store because we are not skilled enough cyclists to hold our Slurpees and steer our bikes.
  • Got really in to the Giants? (The Lifestyle Expert recommends this. The Giants are the best.)
  • Learned how to do calligraphy? And then we wrote everything with our special pens all summer long, and then school started, so we had to stop and go back to boring cursive, and now I need to re-learn calligraphy.
  • Cooked our way through So-and-So’s cookbook? (The Lifestyle Expert is not an expert in this area.)
  • It doesn’t matter. Put whatever you want here. Put in the bank, the post office, the cracked tennis courts.

Sure, plan a grand adventure here and there, and enjoy every second of it! Big adventures are good for the soul. But, expertly speaking, make a lot of room for the nothing-special stuff too. You just don’t know how special that nothing may turn out to be.

FC Cordoba

Me, my mom, and our Chrysler Cordoba, in the summer.

Next Time

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One of the most adorable qualities of the human spirit, is our persistently hopeful notion of next time.

“Next time, I’m not messing around. I’m getting my act together, and I’m going to be amazing. All of these years, and the dozens of times I’ve fallen short, are surely just practice for next time.”

Well, here we are, smack in the middle of last December’s next time.

Some optimistic/delusional part of me, and maybe some equally delusional part of you, likes to think that it is entirely possible for Christmastime to be magazine/Pinterest/Food Network-worthy — polished and delicious and perfect. The other smarter, more reasonable parts of us know it probably won’t be, and the very best parts accept that this is totally ok.

Whether it’s you or me, doesn’t really matter. Let’s pretend it’s you. You won’t do every Christmasy thing you wanted to do – cut down your own tree, drive around to look at the lights, volunteer at a soup kitchen, take your nieces to “The Nutcracker,” or finally use that Advent calendar you bought six years ago.

The Elf on the Shelf will forget to move for a day or two, causing great consternation for the home’s human occupants.

You won’t be able to say yes to every party, but will consider canceling the ones you did say yes to because it’s been a long week, you are tired and cranky, and the rumor going around is there will be people at the party.

You’ll spend more time than you care to admit making that cheery and festive  Anthroplogie-style decorative paper chain, then realize there’s no good place to hang it.

The cat will climb the Christmas tree. An ornament will be broken. You’ll forget where you stashed the stocking hangers, so the limp stockings will wait in a sad pile with the paper chain.

No matter when you get there, the line for Santa will be long, bordering on too long. Or worse, the baby of the family will decide suddenly that they are done visiting Santa, and your heart will hurt a little.

The cards won’t go out on time, if they go out at all. And if they do go out, you will be exactly three stamps short, and you will wonder if those three people are worth a trip to the post office. You’ll say “of course they are,” and you will go to the post office, and once again question your feelings about the strength of those three friendships as you wait in line.

The kids will start to lose interest in making cookies the moment they have to wash their hands, and abandon you altogether when you start pouring ingredients into the mixing bowl; which is ok, because you’re out of eggs anyway.

You will lose patience for a minute, and yell at someone you love.

The big brother will grouse about owning yet another pair of festive pajamas that match the little brother’s, even though this is surely the last year there will be matching pajamas in both their sizes.

Weather will happen, flights will get cancelled.

You will get a paper cut while wrapping presents.

You will remember too late, again, that the idea of ice skating is much better than the reality of ice skating.

Your sweater will be scratchy.

It will seem that absolutely everybody you know is somehow doing Christmas better than you.

They’re not.

I would tell you to relax, but I feel weird telling you to do something I seem to be incapable of. Churchy types, like myself, are in the middle of Advent – which is the season of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. We strive with varying degrees of success, to eschew the commercial and focus on the reason behind it all. We fail at that as much as we succeed. But something special is coming, and it’s really, really hard to sit still.

What do you do while you wait? Whether it’s for your prom date,  party guests, or for something as holy and special as Christmas — how do you fill those final anticipatory hours? Do you meditate, or rearrange the throw pillows and hastily scoop the mail from the kitchen counter? Do you sit on the couch quietly so you don’t wrinkle your outfit or maybe squeeze in one more task and yell at whoever can hear you to get more ice? I rearrange, scoop, squeeze, and yell.

We fill the time, and do what we can, but maybe we can keep our cool a little bit, so we’re not sweating, and antsy and too burnt out to enjoy not only each other, but also the fruits of our laborious waiting period. You’ve worked so hard – you don’t want to miss the main event.

And so what if you didn’t get to everything this year? You’ll do it next time.

Wishing you a joyous, yet totally peaceful, Christmas and holiday season.

The Accidental Time Capsule: I was in Physics Club?

xrayIt’s been six months since we moved into our new place, and I ran across that box. “Oh, I know the one,” you might say, “Coat hangers, expired coupons, a tangle of wires that probably belonged to John’s college stereo, and the mail that was delivered on the day you moved?” Nope, not that box. I already unpacked that one!

I’m talking about the other one.

The box with:

  • The long-forgotten jr. high yearbooks full of awkward brace-face kids in acid wash jeans, who, right now, all across this land, are awkwardly parenting their own brace-face kids in skinny jeans.
  • The senior yearbook, with all of the hand-written notes promising to be friends forever, never imagining we would have to keep that promise on Facebook 20 years later. I immediately sat down with a cup of tea and flipped through it because…because I am a human, and my kids were at school. Man, we were young, and because we were a generation that lived our teenage years before the flat iron, our hair was so…fluffy. I have my share of memory issues these days, but I thought I remembered everything from high school.  I was in Physics Club??
  • The weathered copy of Biography Magazine from September of 1998 with a winsome memorial portrait of Princess Diana on the cover along with the ratty address label from our poorly insulated newlywed apartment.
  • The oversized manila envelope containing x-rays of the poor guy from the Operation game my wonky knee.  The cap part of the knee sits unnaturally askew, and a cartoonish but clear-as-day silhouette jumps right off the plastic page – a standard Home Depot screw that was drilled straight into my knee bone. (That’s the one between the shin and thigh bones, correct? )
  • An address book made obsolete a decade ago by our globe-trotting, transient cadre of friends. (Does anybody need to know where they lived in 1997?). The cover of the address book is Renoir’s painting, “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” purchased during my first grown-up shopping spree that also included my first business suit (wool, navy, pleated, unflattering), a big wicker hamper, and a sauté pan.

At the bottom of the box are the heavy books that once sat on a bookshelf we no longer own in a home we no longer own: a tome about California’s cities by one of my favorite college professors; a book on the 1992 Los Angeles riots seemingly published as the riots were still happening; and the 1992 Newspaper Designer’s Handbook that simultaneously overestimated the future existence of newspapers and underestimated the impact of technology on the once-safe field of newspaper journalism. I refuse to get rid of it. It might still come in handy.

When we moved from the suburbs to the city earlier this year, we downsized our belongings by 40-50%, yet the stuff in this box remained creating an unofficial, accidental time capsule – one I did not even put together myself. I’d been out of the hospital for a few days when John, and his quiet army of thankfully non-judgmental volunteers, helped get our move started while I lay in the other room eating Jell-O.

In recent years, I’ve really worked on overcoming my pack-rat tendencies, and tried not to be so sentimental about stuff. This stuff though? This stuff made it this far, and through multiple moves. It could stay. I separated the box’s contents, and they were quickly absorbed by the rest of our belongings – a shelf here, a cabinet there – with the 1992 Newspaper Designer’s Handbook at my bedside for quick reference.

Also, I just ordered my son’s 8th grade yearbook, and it’s time to put down the tea cup, stop looking backward for a while, and focus on a freckly face that will soon appear in the pages of that book.

*The pic up there? That’s my knee, and my hardware.

** That down there is from my senior yearbook. That’s me, at 17, with my new wave/middle aged lady haircut.

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my fortune: recycle or compost?

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Every once in a while I threaten to go to graduate school. Each time, my very supportive husband who’s in the midst of getting yet another graduate degree affirms, I could totally go back to school if I wanted to.

“I think I want to go to law school. Do you think I could do it?”

“You could do it. Go for it.

“An MFA?”

“ Why not?”

“An MBA?”

“Sure.”

“Accounting? I always kind of wished I was an accountant.”

“You hate math pretty much more than anything, but if you really feel like that’s what you want to do, I’m sure you could.”

“I think I heard somewhere you can get a Masters Degree in Pop Culture. What about a Ph.D? I could be Dr. Pop Culture. I’ve pretty much already done the research.”

Unfortunately, none of these forays into higher learning would help me in navigating the disposal of our lunchtime waste at one of our fine San Francisco malls.

The trash/recycling/compost complex loomed behind us as the boys and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch of room-temperature poststickers (“there are delicious potsitickers  around the corner from our house! Let’s get conrndogs!” one of us usually argues.) I noticed that since our last mall visit, the recycling powers-that-be or the mall powers-that-be had the bright idea of adding a waste disposal instructional video that was now playing on a loop on a flat screen TV right above the waste bins.

Perhaps they filmed this video after watching security camera footage of our family confused and arguing at the bins about where to put our corndog sticks.

When the potstickers were gone, and the cookies were pillaged for their fortunes, we gathered our mountain of wrappers, utensils, cups, and plates, and stood in line at the waste disposal annex that, I’m pretty sure, occupies the space where Chess King used to be. I looked back and forth from six straw wrapper halves to the examples posted in the display cases above Recycling, Compost, and Trash, or as they call it, “Landfill” to make sure you think three times before you put your cherry lemonade cup in that hole.

The panic set in when I saw the kind of plate I had was not represented on the wall of examples.

“Do I pour the sticky potsticker sauce in compost before I recycle the cup? I have a different fork than the one on the board; mine might be made of potato or corn. We do this fine at home; why is it so difficult at the mall? The mall’s supposed to be fun! What kind of paper is my cookie’s fortune written on? Is it coated?”

“You’re not keeping your fortune?”

“I’ve had enough adventure for one year, thanks. I’m not thrilled that more ‘awaits.’ Anyway, crummy fortunes aren’t covered in this video, and now there’s a line behind us.”

“Mom, I’ve had lots of practice at my new school; we have this same set-up,” said the middle schooler as he adeptly took over. “It took me forever to do this my first day, and there wasn’t a video,” he continued as he buzzed around me in a blur of recycling, “but then it got easier.”

The soon-to-be 2nd grader piped in as he composted his napkins. “My teacher gave me a garbage buddy to help me after lunch on my first day.”

Planet Earth might be happy to know our malls and schools are, at this moment, assigning garbage buddies and hosting a generation of whiz kid Reducers, Reusers, and Recyclers. Just wait until they get THEIR graduate degrees.

*I still do not know which bin the corn dog stick goes in

A Puzzling Dilemma as in a dilemma about puzzles

Image I certainly wasn’t going to let the boys sit around during the first week of summer and play video games. No sir. I had big plans: walk the new neighborhood discovering the treasures outside our back door and establishing ourselves as regulars at the library and the playground around the corner. Take a picnic to Golden Gate Park. Frequent the local museums. Become a family who cooks together and whimsically creates goodies like sweet potato chips, and kale chips, and banana chips.

It was a chilly, foggy San Francisco summer day – the first of many, I’m sure. The boys had already raced through the comic books they insisted on checking out from the library, and nobody felt like slipping off the mist covered playground equipment around the corner. Our pantry was also suffering from a disappointing lack of kale, sweet potatoes and bananas.

I stood in the middle of the room considering our now limited entertainment options while the boys’ fingers slyly walked themselves to the Playstation controllers, like Thing in “The Addams Family.”

Aha!

“A puzzle! Puzzles, are fun, and I have a perfect puzzle for us.”

I dug around the cabinet, to find it pristine and unopened, even after two moves. Mickey Mouse in all his glory. Not just any Mickey Mouse, but a mosaic Mickey, in which his diminutive frame is constructed of tiny little scenes from Disney classic movie scenes from “Aladdin,” “Peter Pan,” “Lion King,” and “101 Dalmations.”

The puzzle prep began –  a cleared spot on the floor, a giant plastic lid for the portable puzzle building surface, comfy clothes, and snacks. The 7-year-old took his place next to me and helped rip the plastic film from the box. The almost 13-year-old stretched his lanky frame across the couch above us, typing into his phone what I guessed was a text that read something like, “Sorry friends, I will be unavailable for a bit. I’ll be building a cool puzzle with my cool mom and adorable little brother. It will take a couple of hours, but it will be awesome, then we can start texting again about how much we love our parents and reading.”

“Remember, first we look for the edge pieces, so we can build the frame,” I said as we pulled off the lid. “We’ll knock this thing out before dinner.”

“There must be a mistake, is this two puzzles?”  Inside the seemingly bottomless box, were the tiniest puzzle pieces I had ever seen, with only about three colors of the rainbow represented.

I looked at the lid. 1000 pieces. One thousand.

Jake peered down to us from his perch in a way that made it clear Zach and I were on our own.

Do we back down in the face of a challenge? No, of course not. I ignored the voice in the back of my head that plead for me to abandon ship, and find some Play-Do.

“More like a thousand pieces of fun!” we decided and dove in.

“Is this an edge, Mom?”

“No sweetie.”

“How about this?”

“Close, but no. See, it has to be totally straight on one side.”

“Is this an edge?”

“No, sorry.”

“This one’s red, where does it go?”

“I’m not sure. We’re just looking for edges right now, don’t worry about the color yet.”

“Is this an edge?”

“Yes! Yes, it is! Great find!”

“I did it! Aren’t you happy I found that for you, Mom? I need to go to my room for a second.”

You can see where this is going. It wasn’t for a second.

The fate of this puzzle rested with me.

Over the din of the video games that were eventually turned on, the boys threw me an occasional, “Mom, you are so good at puzzles. It’s really shaping up. Look at you go! I can kinda see the picture. Did you forget that we need to eat breakfast/lunch/dinner?”

The floor suddenly was uncomfortable. All the pieces looked the same.  I was missing two edges. I had other stuff to do. All this squinting at the tiny pictures of Mufasa were going to give me crow’s feet. I wanted to quit.  The boys were right there, occasionally paying attention, though. What would my quitting teach them? Anyway, they would probably want to help when it started to come together, and when they saw how much fun I was having.

Over the course of the next three days, my mind raced over the doldrums of methodically scanning the example picture for the location of the tiny Princess Jasmine who was looking slightly down and to the left, as opposed to the right-facing Jasmine, or the Jasmine glancing over her shoulder. Wait, is this helping my healing brain, or making it worse? I should give up. No, it makes much more sense for a grown woman to obsess over a Mickey Mouse puzzle for three days, than to give up just to do “laundry” and “clean the bathroom.”

It was a silly puzzle, but I learned a few things.

I can now pick out, from a mile away, all of the gradations in the red and blue color families.

Putting tiny dalmations in a puzzle is just mean.

There are always moments in the course of a puzzle, where you are certain at least three key pieces fell on the floor of the puzzle factory, and were never included in your box.

“Good job Mom,” even when being delivered between pitches of an MLB Playstation game, makes you feel good.

The boys are surprisingly self-sufficient. And they were interested in helping after all. When I had 980 pieces put together, they decided to jump in for the assist, and have subsequently, and repeatedly reminded me of their contributions. In a moment of weakness, I allowed myself to participate in a kerfuffle with the youngest about who would have the honor of putting in the final piece. It was me. I put it in. And it was wonderful.

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