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She’s only 75 feet away from me but I know that she has gone further. Much further.

She’s with a group of kids we met just a few days ago. This amalgamation of youth is camp magic: 5 + 2 + 3 + 1 = 11 children, ages 3 to 12; separate clusters now established as a pack. I hear her voice lifting above the indistinguishable murmur of sopranos and altos. They are gathering sticks to roast marshmallows. Her words are an incomprehensible string, but her timbre is unmistakeable. She sounds thrilled.bonfire

The screened porch is my observation deck. I trust that I am unseen in the shadows of the gloaming. She is holding hands with two girls, a forever friend and one newly minted. They are skipping together. Their giggles tinkle on the breeze.

She is delighted by this spoonful of independence.

I am struck with melancholy for the baby she was. She who clung to my breast in what I grimly referred to as my “fourth trimester,” who flatly refused to acknowledge strangers’ salutations even when prompted by a parent, whose outraged screams reverberated in my head long after I had departed from her daycare.

She’s growing up. She’ll need me less in some ways, more in others. My heart swells and minutes pass as I stand motionless.

hay field

I had one of those moments – oh-so-fleeting – of pure happiness.

I was speeding home from a relaxed all-day barbeque with friends. My husband and the boys were in one car; Nora and I were in the other. We cranked the windows open and Abba’s “Dancing Queen” floated around us. The sun dipped towards the horizon. Rows of newly mown hay perfumed the air. A couple of donkeys and a herd of cows grazed in a field. “This is Vermont,” I thought.

I turned the radio down and caught Nora’s eye in the rearview mirror. “We had a wonderful day today, didn’t we?”

A small smile curved around her thumb. She murmured something.

“What’d you say, honey?” I asked, silently willing my five-year old to validate my unspoken sentiments.

“You’re welcome.” she said, as her eyes closed and her hand fell away from her face. “Thank you for coming.”

We are going to have dinner in the home of friends who live in a town six interstate exits away. I herd the kids into the relatively more gas-efficient of our two vehicles. Before I can sit in the passenger’s seat of our Saturn Ion, I must transfer Liam’s belongings from the front seat to the trunk. Although I am gratified that he put his sleeping bag, backpack, etc., in the car as asked, I am still annoyed at being inconvenienced.

I am carrying multiple items (bottles of home-brewed beer, a bottle of wine in case the home-brew doesn’t go over well, Nora’s sweater, and our contribution towards dinner – a tomato, rice and basil salad). I am obliged to balance on one foot and push the button that opens the trunk with my big toe. In the backseat, Liam rubs his siblings’ earlobes and they swat at him. Everyone yells. I tell myself that we are dropping Liam at a friend’s house just a mile away.

As I sink into my seat, I recall what happened the last time Liam went to this friend’s house. I turn around to catch his eye and sternly remind him to behave himself and to respect other people’s property (The last time he went to this friend’s house—and I wish this wasn’t true—he broke the latch on his friend’s bedroom door when he KICKED IT IN during a mock clone trooper assault). That he was invited back to this friend’s house at all is a small miracle. We deposit Liam on his friend’s front stoop and arrange to pick him up after breakfast.

I check the time. We are late. I check the numbers stored in my cell phone; our friends’ phone number is not programmed. I call 411 and hope their number is listed. Nora and Henry are now arguing so loudly that I can’t hear the telephone operator. Just as loudly, my husband tells the kids, “Quiet down.” My call is automatically connected. Thirty seconds into my conversation with our prospective host Henry screams “NO” so emphatically that myself, my husband, Nora, and my friend on the telephone are stunned into silence. I weakly end the call with, “We’ll see you soon!” then lurch around to deal with my overwrought children who are fighting over a punch ball that made it into the car somehow (Nora pinged it off Henry’s face and he is understandably irritated).

I scold Nora and take a good look at Henry. He is so tired that I anticipate his sleeping for the remainder of the 45 minute car ride. Except, I realize: 1) I don’t know when Henry last went to the bathroom; and 2) I hadn’t brought any in-case-of-an-accident clothes. Urgently, I ask Henry if he has to pee and receive a sleepy, but clearly affirmative, response.

My husband and I debate whether Henry can pee on the side of the road. We finally agree to use the sure-to-be-filthy gas station bathroom rather than have Henry make his first-ever attempt at urinating standing up, whilst in a ditch beside Route 117. It is now suspiciously quiet in the car. I check on Henry and discover him on the brink of a sleep coma. I cannot let him succumb to the sandman before he relieves himself or we will all be sorry. For an eternal four minutes, I alternately tickle and pinch Henry’s legs to keep him awake. Henry whines and kicks any part of me that he can reach, along with the backside of the driver’s seat.  My husband grits his teeth. Nora sucks her thumb and watches me act like the lunatic I am. I am nauseous from facing the wrong way in the car. I encourage my husband to risk a speeding ticket just to end the madness. We crest the hill in our silver bullet; the oasis-like gas station gleams in the distance. Henry is still awake and his bladder is full. Hallelujah!

Esso_gas_station_finland

Nora as fishWhen you are a five year old ballerina, you dance a little and wait to dance a lot.


First, you stand around in your frilly fish costume looking adorable. You preen under the adulation you receive. Then you stand in line waiting for it to be your turn to pose for a formal picture that your mother will pass out to grandparents and other relatives who are missing your debut. You’re unable to contain yourself and start jumping up and down. Your other fishy friends think this is a great idea and they start bouncing up and down too. Someone starts a game of tag. Soon you are racing around the “holding pen” giggling madly.


Your mother thinks her head might explode.


A ballet instructor chastises you, your friends and your mother who is the group monitor, for un-ballerina like behavior. You mope. You wait around some more. At long last, you are lined up with the other ants-in-their-pants fish. You are brought backstage where you must wait for the big-girl ballerinas to finish their routine on-stage. You are enthralled by their grace and beauty. Some of your little fish friends are wriggling again but now you are all business. “Stop moving my body!” you hiss in a very loud stage whisper when the primary offender bumps into you. “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!” she retorts indignantly. Your mother ineffectively shushes the group and pleads with all the little fishies to be patient “just a teensy bit longer.” The music rises in a familiar trill. Your grand entrance!


Two minutes later, your dance is over and you exit stage right. The audience applauds madly. You are thrilled. Your mother hugs you and says she is proud of you. Your smile tells her everything. She escorts you and the other fish back downstairs to…wait.


Curtain call in just 58 minutes.

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