Oct 31 2009

Le Halloween

A good thing about being Americans living abroad is that we can take advantage of the holidays celebrated in both the United States and in France. We bring our own national traditions with us: Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. But then we also get to appreciate the local celebrations such as Bastille Day, the Beaujoulais Nouveau and, like, every other Tuesday and Friday in May.

Another good thing is that many of the traditional holidays, so unfortunately over-commercialized in the United States, are less amplified here in France. Here we celebrate more modestly, in a spirit that reminds me of when I was a little girl. I’m not saying that France hasn’t succumbed to the consumerism of Christmas, or that there aren’t some materialistic aspects to this culture, but holidays are not over-marketed to the same degree as in my homeland.

Halloween, in France, is especially understated. There happens to be a school holiday the week prior and following, but this is an excuse for a mid-trimester break that coincides with Toussaints, or All Saints Day, on November 1st. But there is no serious trick-or-treating and bobbing-for-apples is unheard of. The French simply don’t do l’Alowine.
jack_o_lanterns
It’s still my favorite holiday, Halloween. I love the idea of being costumed and masked and taking on another persona. I love telling scary stories. I love carving innocent pumpkins into mischievous jack-o-lanterns.

Because Halloween is not part of the French national consciousness, I realized, when the girls were finally old enough to go trick-or-treating, that I’d have to choreograph the entire event. I wrote up a French set of instructions and distributed them to neighbors in our building, and to some of our favorite stops in the quartier: our tailor, a favorite café, the bakery. I realized that without knowing the custom, it might seem odd that we’d ask them to provide free candy for our children, so I even made little gift-bags of bonbons and handed them out along with my instructions. Basically, if you agreed to participate, all you had to do was open the door when we rang the bell. It was a ready-made system: Halloween-to-go.

We’ve left those urban Halloweens behind. We spend much of the two-week Toussaints school vacation at the country house, a place far more suitable for celebrating a spooky holiday. The ground is layered with moist brown and orange leaves. The trees are nearly bare, dancing like skeletal silhouettes along the long road we must walk, in the dark, to visit the five houses that are near enough for trick-or-treating. The British neighbors know the drill, so no additional preparation is required. Even the French neighbors caught on quickly, and seem to look forward to viewing the odd creatures who show up at their door, begging for goodies. There is one household, a strange trio of three elderly peasants who live today much like they did fifty years ago, without running water or electricity. It occurred to me, after leaving them the note and the candy, that they might not know how to read. I think they thought the candy was a gift they could keep. When we came knocking on their door, nobody answered. It was pretty scary, standing outside their dark house, knocking, listening, wondering if they’d answer. Now that’s Halloween.
hula_dancers
This year Short-pants and Buddy-roo have opted out of any witch, ghost or goblin costumes, and even turned up their nose at the idea of being princesses. (Can I mention how much that pleases me?) Inspired by some ukuleles that came home from a workshop I led last spring and a costume idea from a depression-era story that accompanied one of their American Girl dolls, they’ve both decided to be hula dancers. So, grass skirts, check. Leis, check. Candy, check. Boo!


Oct 26 2009

Lying through our Teeth

It’s not easy, maintaining the myth of the tooth fairy.

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to perpetuate this little legend. It’s a lie.
I suppose it’s an automatic reflex: The tooth fairy comes to take away our children’s teeth because our parents told us she (it is a she, right?) came to take away ours. Just like Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and rides behind his preternatural reindeer on Christmas Eve because that’s what our parents told us, so we tell our kids. Say all you want about how Santa exists in our hearts and in the spirit of Christmas, but no matter how you dress it up: it’s a big fat lie.
foster_grant_smile
Last summer, Short-pants expelled a baby tooth that had been hanging on for over a month. She was so excited that she put herself to bed early, the tiny piece of enamel centered under her pillow, waiting to be magically traded for a coin, overnight. The next morning she galloped down the stairs in tears.

“The tooth fairy didn’t take my tooth!”
Oh Shit, I said. (Not out loud, though.)
“That can’t be,” I said, audibly.
“It’s true,” she said, lifting her cupped palm up toward me. There it was, that little tooth, the same one that had fallen out of her mouth the afternoon before.
“Wait a minute,” I said, “What’s today’s date? Are we in…is it August?”
“Yes?” she said, verging on hysteria.
“Well of course, the tooth fairy must be on vacation!”
“Really? On vacation?” she said, reining in her sobs, hope in her little voice.
“Everyone in France goes on vacation in August. It’s the same for the tooth fairy.”

De-facto quietly shut the door to his office.

“We just have to try again,” I assured her. We agreed to put the tooth under her pillow the next night, and again the next night – every night in August if necessary – until the tooth fairy returned from her holiday. (That tooth garnered 2 euros, btw, double the usual booty.)

Should I have told her the truth? “Mama was supposed to sneak upstairs and take the tooth from under your pillow and replace it with a one euro coin, but as a result of a 10-hour brunch in the courtyard with Ricky and Lucy, she fell asleep before you did.” (And why does mama speak about herself in the third person on occasions like this?)

Or more brutally: “I forgot.”

Two weeks ago, Buddy-roo’s front bottom tooth was wiggling; this would be her first tooth to come out. I was about to leave for a 10-day trip, De-facto would follow several days later to join me for a work assignment. I worried, what if the tooth fell out while we were gone? I wrote a note to our babysitter – she’s loyal and reliable but from another culture that doesn’t have a tooth fairy – explaining this ritual. She heeded my request but because Buddy-roo wanted us to see the tooth before it was relinquished to the fairy, it was put away for safekeeping. When we returned, the babysitter
without_toothwent to get it from the basket on top of the microwave oven, where she’d put it, but looked back at me in a panic. She uttered one word, the name of our cleaning guy, and the whole story was clear.

“Wait,” I said to Buddy-roo, who was impatient for me to examine the lone tooth. “I really want to see it, but I have to do one thing first.” I nodded at our babysitter to let her know I had a plan. I ran to my bedroom closet, dug into those precious jewelry cases stashed in the back, and pulled out one of Short-pant’s little lost teeth – probably the same one from last August. Returning to the scene of the crime, “Now, let me see that tooth,” I rummaged around the top of the microwave, pretending to find the tooth that had been left there. Buddy-roo even inspected it herself and couldn’t tell the difference. Crisis averted.

Essayist Paul Graham suggests that adults lie constantly to their kids for a number of possibly legitimate reasons: to protect them, to preserve their innocence, to maintain our authority – or sometimes simply to keep the peace.

We arrive at adulthood with a kind of truth debt. We were told a lot of lies to get us (and our parents) through our childhood. Some may have been necessary. Some probably weren’t. But we all arrive at adulthood with heads full of lies.

Will my daughters resent me when they discover this? I never held it against my parents. Why? Why didn’t I resent being lied to? Will my girls forgive me when they find out the truth about Santa? The Easter bunny? The tooth fairy? And anything else I might have to make up just to help them make sense of this world?

I asked De-facto if he was uncomfortable with the ruse of the tooth fairy. He said losing a tooth could be pretty traumatic for a little kid. Maybe knowing the tooth fairy sees value in this small spare part makes up for the shock of having it fall out of your mouth.

So I lie to my kids. Sometimes for their own good. Sometimes for my own sanity.

Like the time we let the girls watch Sophia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette. It’s one of those films made for an adult audience, but it’s nuanced enough that the girls can watch it. At the end of the film, there’s a scene in which Marie Antoinette is being taken away in her carriage and she looks out the window at the Petit Trianon for the last time.

“Where is she going?” Buddy-roo asked.
“They’re taking her to prison.” I said.

Then there’s a shot – maybe the last one in the film – very slowly panning the boudoir of Marie Antoinette and Louis the XVI, which has been totally
Versailles_bedroomtrashed by the angry mobs of protesters that made their way to Versailles.

“But why did she go to jail?” Buddy-roo asked.
“Because she didn’t clean her room.” I said, nodding at the screen, “Look.”
“Oh,” she said, “She really went to jail because she didn’t clean her room?”
“That’s right.”


Oct 21 2009

The Ledger

“Come with me,” she said, a command that once upon a time would elicit a groan. She led me into the room that is part-laundry room, part-office. I watched her open the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet. She pulled out two ledgers.

“This one has all my medical expenses.” She opened the pages to show me the rows of entries, evenly notated in handwriting I recognized from grocery lists and birthday cards and notes she wrote to school excusing my absence. That’s something you never forget: the protective lines and loops of your mother’s handwriting.

She pointed to the pages in the front. “These are things I paid for, every day things like prescriptions and lab tests.” She flipped to the pages at the back of the notebook. “These are the big medical costs – covered by insurance.” Her familiar index finger tracked down the first column, running over all the words. Oncologist. Chemotherapy. Blood transfusion. Everything detailed. Everything organized.

She opened up the second ledger. Like the first, its columns were neatly labeled and ordered; each page separated by a pile of loose receipts retained for her records. “This book has all my expenses for the year, for my taxes.”

That’s my mother, always organized, preparing to die the same pragmatic and efficient way she’s always lived.

She desperately needed help going through the upstairs backroom, she said, so we obliged, her three grown children following her up the stairs with an eagerness un-witnessed during our childhood. Backroom, in our family, is a euphemism for junk room. The downstairs backroom is a history project, filled with our parents’ past; their love letters, college papers, every issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, neatly boxed, saved since 1958 or thereabouts.
upstairsThe upstairs backroom, once my brother’s room (with football-patterned wall paper) and then mine (painted white but with bright yellow and neon green shag carpet), now a third guest bedroom rarely used not only because it is the less grand of all the bedrooms, but because the bed was completely covered with bags and baubles brought home from meetings and conventions, or those awkward gifts received from well-meaning friends with taste so strikingly different that their generosity, though appreciated, is never fully utilized. At the foot of the bed, a row of boxes of belongings earmarked for a future yard sale. All the framed awards she received during her admirable career – too numerous to fit on the walls – piled on the shelves and on the floor, stacked against the wall. In the dresser drawers, things too precious to part with, ivory kid gloves from a governor’s ball, a silk purse her mother bought in Hong Kong, old black and white photographs, our baby teeth hidden in tiny envelopes, dated in my father’s handwriting.

It’s always the hardest room to clean, the one packed with things of only sentimental value.

The doctors never thought she’d live this long. Last winter, when the diagnosis of pre-leukemic myelodysplasia first pounded its gavel, they ordered a palliative treatment, a mild chemo easily administered five consecutive days in a monthly cycle, a treatment as inconvenient as having your period. In addition, frequent blood transfusions to introduce new cells to replace her tired, incompetent ones. Lots of doctor’s visits and the requisite poking and probing, but all of it relatively close to home and all of her loyal friends have rallied to help, taking turns driving her to all her appointments, checking in on her between medical visits. Though she is still more than capable to drive herself, good company is never a bad idea.

She has a quality of life that is absolutely acceptable. Of course she has slowed her crazy itinerary of activities and travel. But she still does a lot: a dizzying dance-card of lunches and dinner dates with friends, an occasional board meeting, her own shopping and errands. She lives more wisely now, doing only what she wants and using her lack of white blood cells as a good excuse to cut out anything extraneous. After each monthly transfusion, she gets a boost of energy and feels good. But her marrow won’t manufacture the good blood cells she needs, so she’s vulnerable to infection. She avoids crowds and coughing strangers. She won’t die of leukemia; she’ll die because of what the leukemia won’t let her fight.

There is, in fact, a growth in her lung. Is it a tumor? An infection? A fungal growth? The doctors aren’t sure. But the risk of an invasive procedure to determine its nature is deemed too dangerous. Even if they knew what it was, they wouldn’t treat it. A surgery brings too much risk for infection. A stronger chemotherapy also exists, but the doctor opts not to administer it because it requires a portacath, which can too easily become infected. The thought of such medical paraphernalia gives me flashbacks to when Short-pants was in the hospital and her stay was lengthened because the permanent drip became infected, leading to a sepsis that set her recovery back at least a month – and who knows how close she came to not recovering as a result of that secondary infection, an infection my mother would not be able to overcome.
autumn_trees
But she looks so beautiful, my mother. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She smiles. She laughs. She doesn’t look or act sick. She is living in a state of grace, I think.

Her doctor’s priority is not to cure her – since that is impossible – but to slow the disease so that she might have a quality of life while preparing for its end. For over a month now she’s been off the chemo treatment, and she’s no worse when she was on it. The doctors are baffled to see her doing so well. My mother’s constitution, in the end, is remarkable.

I asked her if she was scared. “No,” she said, “Dying is a part of life. Nobody can live forever.” This is indisputable; it can happen to any of us, any day – a fluke car crash or the diagnosis we dread – just like that. But once the sentence is offered, the disease is certain and incurable, I can only imagine what it’s like to stand on the threshold of the uncertain mystery ahead.

She shakes her head, not with resignation but with gratitude, and lists her fond memories: a happy childhood in Havana, enjoying college, all the good years with my father before he died. My siblings and I have managed not to disappoint her. She had a serious career when many women couldn’t, and even in retirement, continues to make an impact in her field. She’s traveled all over the globe. She adores her grandchildren, and this is reciprocated.

There’s no place on her ledger for remorse. She’s just counting up all the good things, year-by-year. Except that now she notices them day-to-day. You can’t imagine how much I am in awe of her, my mother, still modeling for me how to live – right up to the end.


Oct 17 2009

Dishwasher Dilemma

Sometimes De-facto and I work together, professionally.

I’m wary about this because living, loving, and parenting together are hard enough. Adding the vocational dimension is tricky; it could put us over the 24/7 edge. He always rolls his eyes when I say this, but I think it’s important: We each need our own time and place in the sun. And honestly, we’d drive each other crazy if our careers were absolutely inextricable.

But on those occasions when we do get to team up, we do pretty well. We pass the baton back and forth and mix things up a little with our different styles. My favorite part is when he gives his little spiel about patterned thinking. It starts out something like this:

“Humans are actually hard-wired to locate, create, and sustain patterns. It’s part of our survival. The brain is a pattern-making machine.”

He goes on to support this with a little bit of scientific research, a few diagrams of the human brain and a little exercise that people always flub up because they get too caught in a pattern they think they see but isn’t really there. It’s a good set-up for raising awareness about the assumptions we make on a day-to-day basis, in order to free them up to break patterns and try to be a bit more creative. While he’s making his case for breaking patterns, he reminds us why we have them to begin with:

“The human brain uses patterns, structures or routines – cognitive scientists call these mental models – to make us more effective and efficient.”

This is the part where I usually have to leave the room or look down at the floor so I don’t laugh out loud what I’m thinking in that moment which is, “You mean all human brains except for yours.”

Ours is a relatively egalitarian household. We share chores, more or less in equal measure. We never actually sat down and divided the jobs, they just ended up falling into the hands of the one who seemed to care the most or had the aptitude for a particular task. I deal with the administration and paperwork. He is Vice-President of renting-a-car. Most mornings I get the kids up and dressed and fed. He makes the morning walk with them to school. I load the dishwasher, and he unloads it. I manage the laundry, because I’m particular about which clothes go in the dryer and which don’t. He does the grocery shopping, because he hates to waste money and prefers to buy in bulk from the The Ed, the cheap grocery store that I find too exasperating to even enter. He enjoys negotiating the best deal for produce in at the street market. While I find open markets a romantic place to look and stroll, my experience of shopping at them is agonizing.

Not that our assignments are written in indelible ink. Sometimes I pick up groceries or walk the girls to school. Sometimes he does a piece of household admin or loads the dishwasher with dirty dishes.
dishwasher
The loading of this appliance, I’ve found, can be satisfying. I relish getting in as many dishes as possible, whilst maintaining optimum cleaning capacity. This equilibrium is essential. Too few dishes haphazardly placed on the racks, and you run an inefficient wash, wasting money and energy. Too many dishes and they don’t get really clean, you have to leave them in for a second wash or do them by hand. You have to strike the right balance.

It’s not rocket science. Plates down below, from the side to center, big dinner and then smaller luncheon plates, followed by saucers. Coffee pot and tall glasses on the tall spokes. Pots and pans or big bowls strategically placed around these mainstays. On the top rack, café-au-lait bowls tucked under the fold-down flap on the side, allowing for shallower accessory bowls and short glasses to rest on top of them. Cups, mugs and other glasses filling up the rest of the upper rack. And in all cases, load from back to front.

Listen, I’m no neatnik. Open my closets and things fall out. I have photo albums from 2003 that haven’t been assembled. My life is filled with colorful piles and partially-finished, imaginative messes; I like a certain amount of organized disarray around me. But when it comes to the dishwasher, well, I figure my strategy saves money and helps the environment. (Honestly, I’ve reconfigured one of his loads and cleared half the space, putting off a dishwasher run for 24-hours.) But when De-facto loads the dishwasher, it makes no sense whatsoever. He has a pattern, I suppose, but it’s a rather pathetic one.

Well, you may say, his job isn’t to load the dishes, it’s to unload. But wouldn’t you think that after years of unloading a dishwasher that’s so precisely arranged, he might notice some kind of a pattern? We’ve lived together for nearly ten years. He’s probably unloaded that dishwasher at least 2,000 but probably more like 3,000 times. Wouldn’t your pattern-recognition machine pick up something?


Oct 6 2009

Like Mercury

When I was her age, I don’t think I believed in my own opinion anywhere
at_the_park_3near as much as she owns hers. At six – not even, she’s still a few weeks shy – she has an abundance of self-esteem. She stands, solidly planted, unquestioning in her dominance. At the park she reigns. She barks out orders and her friends comply without complaint. They seem happy to do her bidding. Nobody messes with Buddy-roo.

Yesterday an argument between sisters came to blows and resulted in two girls in tears. Buddy-roo, frustrated at her sister’s unwillingness to follow orders. Short-pants, annoyed at the repeated, relentless, nagging request that would not accept a polite, or even an impolite, no. It was one of those situations where a brief separation was the best solution.

Buddy-roo sulked beside me in one room, refusing to discuss or debrief the angry encounter with her sister. “I’m not talking to anyone,” she said, “even you.” Sometimes when I’m mad, I just need to be mad, so I understood. I read my book while she curled into a ball beside me. She wanted me close, but quiet, which is just as well because I don’t know what I could have said that wouldn’t have just made things worse. I could equally query one about being relentless and the other about being inflexible. Three sides to every story.

I overheard De-facto in the other room telling Short-pants about his grandmother, how when she was 2-years old – or so the story goes – her grandfather, a man with a friendly Irish name but a gruff Irish disposition admonished her for climbing up a bookcase. Much to the surprise of the rest of her assembled family, all of whom trembled before the overbearing man, she glared back at him over her shoulder from the third shelf and retorted, “You don’t own me.”

De-facto always has a good story, and knows exactly when to share it; this one perfectly timed to strengthen Short-pant’s intended resolve against her bossy little sister.

Short-pants returned and stood in the doorway. “You don’t own me,” she pronounced. Buddy-roo regarded her, unimpressed.

A little while later, I heard the two of them playing together upstairs. They fell into their imaginary world of pet-shops, fairies and princesses, as though nothing had ever come between them.

I have a childhood memory – it can’t be exactly true and yet it resides in my visual recall – of playing with a ball of mercury. Maybe it was in a science class? Or else a thermometer had broken and maybe it was my brother showing me but not letting me touch? I can’t remember, except for an image that is engraved in my mind. The wild silver ball slipping around the ring of a porcelain saucer, the force of its motion breaking it apart into dozens of little balls and then easily fitting itself back together in one seamless piece. How immediately it could fracture. How permanent it looked once re-bonded.

Sometimes my experience of mothering two daughters is like looking in one of those three-paneled mirrors in a department store fitting room. I see myself straight ahead in the center. Flanking me, one on each side, I see the girls, turned slightly toward me, surrounding me, reflecting at me their actions and dramas, reminiscent of some part of me. Oh, there I am, part defiant, stubborn and bossy – as a young child I confidently wrote letters to my teachers pointing out their errors, and there are abundant teenage tales about how I head-ached my parents. Oh, there I am, the sensitive, uncertain one, eager to please – I was always compliant about things like homework and helping with the dishes, and I excelled at making polite conversation while serving hors d’œuvres at my parents’ cocktail parties.
girls_in_mirror
Oh, here we all are.

I suppose it’s natural, but it’s downright creepy sometimes, how these two girls produce this reflection of me. I’m not sure if I want to encourage them heartily or apologize profusely. But I need only turn the other direction to observe my own mother, and to see – stunningly – how much of her they must see reflected in me. How much of her – I finally understand, now that I’m mothering – is now so much part of me.

It’s like we’re all part of that ball of mercury, temporarily split apart but within view and shouting distance, so clearly made of the same shiny silver substance, and yet separated from each other – except in those rare, complex, and rather profound moments when we can all see each other for who we really are.


Oct 2 2009

Da Capo

It’s not that I want to be the back-stage mom, nor am I so certain that my girls have special musical talent. It’s not even that I’m trying to establish a strong extra-curricular record so that they can get into an Ivy League school (I get a head-ache thinking about that). It’s that I want the sound of music in my house. I want my girls to be introduced to the world of performing arts. Whether they pursue any of these arts with passion or professional intent, that’s up to them. I’m just trying to orchestrate a little artistic exposure. Easier said than done.

At least I’m getting practiced at the art of the inscription. Regular readers of this blog may recall the debacle of last June, where I showed up early – but not early enough – for the registration at the conservatoire de musique. Given a placement of #53 on the list, my low expectations were realized when, at the end of the summer, I went to check the posting on the window to find that Buddy-roo had not been assigned to any of the initiation classes. Not for the solfège. Not for dance. Rien.

This is not a show stopper; there are other such schools in Paris, and ultimately I have managed to enroll Buddy-roo in a dance class at a nearby studio, but that’s another story.
music_stand
For an established student like Short-pants – she’s been in the conservatory system for two years so she’s guaranteed a place – the music track is a triad: theory, chorale + a musical instrument. The problem was her three classes were scheduled on three different days of the week, including a slot on Wednesday morning, which I’d indicated on all the forms I’d dutifully filled out that she had school and would not be available.

During the month of September, then, I made no less than four visits to the conservatory, each time to talk to someone in the bureau de scolarité about reorganizing the schedule. They weren’t terribly empathetic about why I wouldn’t want to schlep my daughter to the conservatoire on three separate occasions each week. I had to use my haute politesse to make a change putting two of the classes back-to-back on one day, easing our after-school travels. Once it was agreed upon, I still had to put it in writing, and then wait for the head administrator to phone me back to confirm the change.

The good news is I knew about the loophole that could get Buddy-roo started in the conservatory even if she wasn’t accepted for any of the traditional initiation classes. Last week, I had an aside with the chorale director who agreed to accept her, giving the registrar no choice but to enroll her. Once she’s in the system, it’s automatic to offer her a full-fledged space next year.

But yesterday the clincher: Short-pants’ first viola lesson. She’s chosen this lesser-known stringed instrument not because she’s so willing to play third fiddle, but because it happens to be what I played in my youth. I remember distinctly the day I asked her, very open-endedly, if she wanted to play an instrument. When she told me yes, the viola, I pressed her, “are you sure?” She beamed. So the viola it is.
alto
The teacher produced two half-sized instruments for her to try. My eyes welled up, with mushy parental pride and, admittedly, some nostalgia, when Short-pants held the shiny wooden instrument beneath her chin, and started plucking away at the strings.

“Do you have the certificate of insurance?” the teacher asked me as we packed up Short-pants’ new viola at the end of her lesson. Up until now nobody had mentioned anything about insurance. I was directed to the office of the director, who told me that I needed only to procure an insurance rider for renting a musical instrument, and then they’d hand it over.

Here’s where carrying an iPhone really comes in handy: I stepped outside, used my index finger, and quickly found my insurance agent on the phone. Not a problem, she said, I needed only to supply the make and the value. With that information, she could even have it ready for me in ten minutes. I walked back in and asked to see the director, again.

“But I do not have this information,” he said, meeting me in the lobby, refusing to invite me back into his office. He was starting to get mildly hysterical. I’d interrupted him and this is not something he could easily provide, how these rental instruments are nothing fancy, the insurance company shouldn’t need this kind of specific information.

I should mention that while all this was going on, I could hear Buddy-roo wailing in the hallway, “I changed my mind, I don’t want to go to chorale.” De-facto, who was accompanying her to her first class, attempted to calm her. Short-pants’ soothing voice was audible, too, “Don’t worry, “I’ll be in there with you.”

I noticed one of the guys at reception desk smirking into his lap, and took this is a cue to give up on the director. I knew I could call the viola teacher later, she’d get me the details I needed. Or I knew of other luthiers I could call to rent a viola on my own. I politely extracted myself from the discourse. When I turned around, the lobby was full of parents, staring at me. Could they feel my pain? I nodded around the circle of chairs, and walked outside.

Just last week, I remember thinking – rather smugly – that I’d finally organized all the school and extra-curricular details. After all the parent-teacher meetings, the trips to the conservatory, the dance studio, the doctor (health certificates needed), the messages back and forth to the teachers about schedules, acquiring the necessary books and notebooks and leotards and ballet slippers, figuring out with De-facto who picks up who and takes them where – it’d been a lot of work, sure, but I’d finally nailed it. Well, apparently not.

Who knew that being a mother meant being a personal assistant to two busy and sometimes temperamental executives?

An hour later, after a bit of fresh air and a restorative bière a la pression at a nearby café, I returned to retrieve my singing cherubs. The two of them skipped into the lobby, hand-in-hand, humming the remnants of a song they must have been singing together in the chorale.

When she saw me, Buddy-roo rushed into my arms. “I loved it!” she said, jubilant, “Can I come back next week?”

“Where’s my viola?” asked Short-pants.

Yeah, I’m working on it.