Tuesday, April 16, 2013

True Confessions: I was stalked by my teenaged daughter

I’ll just confess it right here – I’m probably the only person my age who has never smoked pot --  not once, not even at a party, not even if, like Clinton, I could claim I didn’t inhale. If you wonder how someone who graduated from college in 1979 missed that particular almost-universal experience, I have an easy answer: I was reading a book.

Also, I’ve been married since 1992, and I’ve never had an extramarital affair. The reason for that? I gave my husband a surprise 39½ birthday party in 1998, and the pressure of keeping the secret just about killed me. He’d come home from work and casually mention that he had run into a friend that afternoon, and it was all I could do not to shout, “That guy is coming to the party! The one I’m giving in two weeks and you don’t even know about!” My heart would start beating so fast that I’d get sweaty and have to go lie down. I’m sure he chalked it up to early menopause and never gave it a second thought.

Meanwhile, short of breath and perspiring heavily, I stored all the party supplies in the next-door neighbor’s garage, living in fear that he’d run over there one day, demanding to borrow a Dremel drill from Eric Bachman (not that either of them would know what that was) and uncovering my guilty secret. I used to lay awake in bed at night, worrying that all the Coke cans from next door were emitting a faint glow through the garage windows, and fearing he’d wake up and get wise any second. It was a horrible few weeks, and I learned my lesson about keeping secrets. Don’t.

Given my complete goody-two-shoes nature, I honestly have no idea why my teenaged daughter decided that she had Probable Cause to suspect that I was Up To No Good, and stalked me to what she described as “an unfamiliar house” at 40th and Grand Avenue, that well-known Lovers’ Lane of South Minneapolis. But, indeed, it happened, and here’s how.

Emma, who, as you will not be surprised to discover as this story unfolds, has a more than passing interest in espionage, was taking the bus home from her classes at the University of Minnesota on Monday afternoon. She looked up when the bus stopped several blocks from our house, and saw my car parked on an unfamiliar side street. I have an um, rather distinctive vehicle—a 13-year old green VW Beetle covered with purple magnet polka dots – so she knew it was me. But why was I at that location at noon on a Monday, she mused? She pulled the cord immediately and hopped off the bus, launching her one-woman investigation.

At this point, the story fades out on Emma (Indulge me, if you will, by imaging that telescoping blackout from the Our Gang comedy era) and reveals – me. What was I doing at the moment when my daughter rushed off the bus? I was doing what I'm always doing when I’m not sleeping – working. 

My colleague and friend Peggy Zetah (What an artist!  Visit her website!) had just gotten a freelance gig and needed a writer. We’d agreed to meet at her house on Monday, as soon as we both finished our Tabata class at Blaisdell YMCA (Yes, I have friends who don’t live within ten blocks of me, but not many). So, at the moment Agent Fiala assigned herself to the Case of the Misplaced Mother, I was sitting with Peggy in her home office, going through photo archives and kicking around some headline ideas. We had just moved our work to the dining room table, papers spread everywhere, when my cell phone rang.

Emma: “Where are you right now?” (This is, sadly, the usual way she greets me, since the only time she calls is when she wants something and needs to determine how quickly I will be able to obey her command.)

Me: “I’m at 4014 Grand. Why? Do you need something? Are you okay?”

The phone went dead. “Is everything alright?” Peggy asked, seeing my expression.

“Emma wanted to know where I was …” I trailed off, wondering what was wrong.

We heard some thumps up the front stairs, followed by a knock on the door. There was Emma, filling up the doorway with her tiny, suspicious self. “What are you doing in this house?” she demanded. “I saw your car from the bus and I don’t know why you’re here.”

“I’m working,” I said, pointing to Peggy, too startled to say anything else. “Wait … what did you think I was doing?”

At this point, in a case of very bad timing, Emma’s eyes swung around and got an eyeful of Peggy’s husband, Greg, who had just walked into the living room. Greg is a rehabber who was home for the day, nursing a sprained hand (dog-walking, ice and April, the ultimate Minnesota wintry mix). Her eyes narrowed and I swear I heard her growl. This very kindly man raised both hands, one covered in an Ace bandage, one holding the sandwich he was eating for his lunch. First his wife’s very loud writer friend had come over to work all morning, now this. He looked like he wanted to go back outside and fall on some more ice.

I repeated my question: “Emma, what did you think I was doing?” but by this point, it was clear to everyone in the room what she had thought I was doing.

I had to wonder, has this kid taken a look at me lately? At the “Raccoon Collection by Max Factor” dark circles under my eyes? Or the way I have to walk down the stairs by leaning against the wall and sliding down on my shoulder, so my trick knee doesn’t give out? Has she noticed, I thought to myself, the limp? My capacity for intrigue-filled Monday afternoons … not so high at the moment, hon.

Clearly, Emma had thought otherwise. No one ever looks at their mother, right up until the moment, I suppose, when they’re standing in a stranger’s living room and suspecting her of adultery, a drug habit, a criminal record, and who knows what else. I saw Emma give me an actual once-over, as I stood there in Peggy’s dining room, freshly sweaty from Tabata, my hair boinging up in all directions, because I pull at it when I’m thinking. I saw her mouth form a perfect little “o,” and I could tell she was beginning to realize how misguided she had been.

Here is the great thing about my friend Peggy. She is unflappable. I mean, I have never seen her flaps. “Your mom and I have another half hour or so of work,” she said genially, somehow managing to clear the “J’accuse” stench from the air. “Have a seat and watch tv with Greg. You can do your homework.”

And so, in the way that sometimes happens when things are so strange it seems as if the Earth is going to stop spinning, everything shifted on its axis and started looking normal again. Emma sat down in the comfy chair and pulled out her French textbook. Peggy and I got back to work at the dining room table. Greg sat on the couch and ate his sandwich, then showed Emma a few of the new tricks he’s taught the puppy. Peggy and I wrapped up, talked about deadlines, and I left with one person more than had been in my party when I’d arrived, but everyone behaved as if that were perfectly normal, too.

It was on the car ride back to our house when I began to unravel how truly, truly creepy the whole thing had been. I tried, in my Very Calm Mommy voice, to ask Emma exactly what she’d been thinking and doing in the moments leading up to her arrival at my purported Love Nest. She recounted the story of how she’d flung herself out of the bus and begun running down Grand Avenue in hot pursuit of my parked car. “From the direction it was parked, I could deduce that you’d probably come from the Y. Plus, I saw your yoga mat. But your shoes were there and I thought that was suspicious. WHY didn’t you have your shoes with you?” (Note: the shoes in question are 10-year old Land’s End Inlet clogs that have definitely seen better days, not, in case that’s where you were heading with this, bright red kitten heels with black marabou feathers.)

“Because I was going to take my shoes into Peggy’s to keep my feet warm, after I took off my snow boots, but I forgot,” I said, starting to feel just a little bit uncomfortable. But wait, as we used to say in those corporate incentive trip videos, back in the day -- there’s more … much, much more.

“I figured you had your boots on,” she said, picking up steam now, “so I tracked the footprints from your car to the houses on the even side of the street. But then … “ and I swear I could hear a “dum dum dum” sound in the background, “they disappeared.”

“So what did you do next?” I asked, noticing that my voice was getting very, very, very quiet.

“I walked up to the first possible house and looked in the windows, but it was very messy. I knew you would never be in a house that messy.”

So you thought I’d be somewhere doing God Knows What with Who Knows Whom, but only tidily? I wanted to ask, but stopped myself. She still had a lot more to say.

“That’s when I decided to hit your car,” she told me, proudly.

I made a little squeak. I had run out of words.

“I decided to hit it so the alarm would go off and you’d be forced to run outside,” she chirped. “So I kicked it, and I threw my body against it, and I shoved it. It didn’t work, and a lot of cars were starting to slow down and stare at me.”

Really, I thought? Stare at a tiny Asian girl with no coat and a giant backpack, hurtling herself against an old polka-dotted Beetle? People these days must be starved for entertainment if they find that worth looking at. I realized that she was still talking and I picked up the story midstream … “ – because my cell phone was dead.”

“Wait,” I said, trying to piece it together. “Didn’t you call me?”

“I went into an acupuncture clinic on the corner and made me give them their phone.” Oh dear God, I thought, I bet that acupuncturist went out and threw herself on the ice, too, after you got done with her, Emma. I tried to imagine the havoc that my daughter could wreak with an actual badge and a pair of handcuffs, but I couldn’t bear it. I also wondered, briefly, what would have happened if I had been up to no good. I decided not to go down that particular line of thought, either. 

“So then you answered the phone and told me the address, and I proceeded to that house, and --” here she stopped for a triumphant bit of savoring, as if she had just guessed the room, weapon and murderer on the first dice roll in Clue – “the house was NOT messy.”

“Emma," I said, and I am not lying when I tell you this is the gist of a conversation I’ve had three times a week, minimum, with this person for the last 16 years or so. "Can I just ask you to think about how other people might have felt when this was happening? How would you feel if this had happened to you?”

She stopped talking, startled. “You mean, if you followed me to a friend’s house and snuck around and barged in?” She paused for a moment, as if she were actually mulling it over (I have never seen her mull before; first time for everything). “Oh, that would be stalking.”

I nodded my head vigorously, trying to get her on board the Empathy Train with me. “So you wouldn’t want to do that again, right? To me? Or to anyone on Earth? Because it might make them feel uncomfortable, or it might be embarrassing? Or just, you know, creepy?”

“Can’t promise that,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I think I’m pretty good at this stuff, so I’m leaving my options open.” She flung back that long curtain of shiny black hair, this girl who’d had exactly three bristles on top of her tiny head the day she was handed into my arms.

Later that afternoon, I was back at home, guess what, working. Emma appeared in the doorway of my office, ready to argue her case, the way this kid has argued hundreds of thousands of cases before me over the years -- wearing down me, the judge, to the nub I am today. 

“I talked with Dad,” she declared. “And he says that, while my actions might, in fact, be considered creepy by some, they could also be viewed as resourceful. So I’m going with that,” she told me. “I’m resourceful.”

I looked up from my computer and right into her shiny, shiny eyes.

Oh honey, I thought. You certainly are.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

26 Baskets

One recent afternoon, Emma and I found ourselves in the kitchen, each concentrating on what we do best. Across the cluttered and sticky countertop, she was finishing her economics homework. I was rolling out dough for that night’s dinner, that gourmet standby of pigs in a blanket.

Hands busy, mind free, I asked her to tell me more about what she was doing. From across the counter, there came a long sigh and a satisfied smile: “I love derivatives,” she crooned.

“Explain, please,” I asked, reaching for another piece of dough to roll out onto my flour-covered board. My dough has never once required the use of derivatives in its preparation, and it rarely fails, but I was keeping an open mind, at least at that point.

So she explained – or, at least, I think she did. “Can you give me an example?” I finally asked, grasping at the straw of a story that would explain everything, the way people have been doing for thousands of years when they’re faced with religion and mathematics and other great unknowables.

But Emma had no parables that would lead me to pure enlightenment. Instead, she launched into a story about a fat lady, a middle-sized lady and a skinny lady, and how each of them had lost a factor and had thus, somehow, moved into a smaller dress size. Derivatives, I understand, were the reason for the weight loss. “But why?” I asked. “Do these ladies reveal some special math secret when they’re skinny, or when they’re fat?”

“I’ll make it easy for you,” she said, and I’ve spent enough time around math-y types to know that this was usually the last thing they said before I started wanting to cry. I patiently rolled yet another pig into another blanket, pulling the dough into a perfect crescent and listening to the scratch of her pencil in the economics textbook.

Finished, sure this would do the trick, she turned the page around to show me what she’d done,  revealing a long string of formulas, with parentheses and x’s and y’s and other extremely knotty stuff. “See?” she said, as if this, finally, was an explanation so clear and simple that even I could grasp it.

I covered my eyes with my flour-caked fingers. “But what are they USED for?” I finally asked. Her answer was, basically, the answer I’ve been getting since I decided to give up on math in the fourth grade – you use this math thing to help you do more math things.

“Which is why I am AWOL from the army of math,” I said. I decided to make a plea for my side of the world. “See, you don’t just use words to make other words. You use words to write a letter of complaint to the City Water Commission, or to write a knock-knock joke or to craft a sonnet that will make people cry. You use words ..”


I stopped. I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, talking with my hands and flinging flour everywhere. She clearly suspected that a few choice lines from Shakespeare were next on my agenda, and she didn’t have time for that sort of monkey business, not that she’d ever use a term as silly as “monkey business.”

“I have to finish my homework.”

So we settled back, me woolgathering in the vast, pleasant meadow of my words, a Ferdinand the Bull of South Minneapolis, and her, bestriding the globe like a colossus with her multi-sized derivatives that allowed for the completion of even more math problems, and what more did you need to know about them than that wonderful thing?

Dough rising, I turned to the dishes, and that’s when I started imagining what the inside of Emma’s brain looks like. I pictured a long, long white hallway, perfectly cooled to 75 degrees, with hundreds of doors on either side, to allow for complete compartmentalization. Emotions?  Put them behind that big door over there, and I’ll pull them out when I’m bored, or it’s Sunday night, or my mom seems a little too calm. Feminine wiles to turn any man to jello? Third door on the right, and make sure that the biometric scanner has been updated. Complete understanding of the use and meaning of derivatives? In a little file drawer over there; it doesn’t take up very much space around here.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew there was massive control room somewhere in this brain, something that made the Starship Enterprise look like the S. S. Minnow. And right in the middle of that room, there is a console with a big red “Overdrive” button. This is a girl who not only has a brain with an “Overdrive” button, but who knows how to use it – for a college essay, a Chinese oral exam or a life challenge. Bring it. She just presses the button and watches everything else fall away.

She assumes, of course, that everyone else’s brain works just like hers, and that people who aren’t living up to her standards are simply refusing to properly access their Overdrive buttons. (Example Number One: Me.)

I finished one sinkful of dough-covered dishes and started on the next one, being careful not to fall so deep into reverie that I sliced my fingers with the carving knife (it’s happened). Then I started to imagine what the inside of my own brain would look like. Well, different than the Starship Emma, that’s for sure. It is, I imagined, like a combination between the nonexistent 13 1/2 floor of ABC Carpet in Chelsea, and a long-abandoned, but at one time much-loved, off-Broadway theater, right down to the moth-eaten curtains and the discarded bits of set pieces lying around. The floors are wooden, warped and worn. There are inconveniently placed iron pillars, each holding a lifetime’s worth of flaking paint choices. Of course, there’s a constant soundtrack, alternating between snippets of the Great American Songbook and Code Red Worry Alert notices. Stagehands are moving set pieces into and out of the spotlight while actors drift across the stage, forgetting their lines with regularity. The ghost light is always on, because really, is anybody ever really at home?

To bring a derivative into a brain like this is rather like bringing a kitten into Emma’s immaculate hallway. There’s just not a need for it, and it won’t be very happy there, anyway.

I can remember, before I went AWOL, sitting attentively in math class, reading the story problems, but then the stories would enter my brain, and the nature of my attention would shift unproductively. Why did Nancy have four apples and Susan only have two? Couldn’t she just give the girl an apple and put an end to all this busywork? Why was Peter heading on a train to Buffalo that was going to make three stops? Was he running after his girlfriend, who had stormed out after finding him in a rehearsal hall in Greenwich Village with a woman she clearly took to be a stripper, but who was, in fact, just trying out for Peter’s new show? Was Peter going to revive “Gypsy?” Oh, that would be great. Those are the best opening notes in history, although, no maybe it’s “South Pacific…”

Back to work, Julie, I would tell myself, and try to settle down. “There’s Peter, on the train to Buffalo, and I wonder if he even knows that ecdysiast is the synonym for stripper, or that the girl who was auditioning is actually a Vassar grad who refuses to accept anything from her parents because she knows she’s going to make it in the big city…”

“Hand in your papers, children.”

Story of my life.  Sitting in a shabby, darkened theater, watching the sets pushing by, and never getting past the second math problem.

The only other thing I know for sure about my brain is that, in addition to all the clutter, it has 26 baskets, clearly marked, one for each letter of the alphabet. It is a filing system, just a rather embarrassing one, but I seem to be stuck with it. Let’s say, for example, that I happened to run into Peter on that train to Buffalo, and a couple weeks later I bump into him at the corner of Sullivan and Thompson Streets, arm-in-arm with his reconciled girlfriend and flush with his new production deal for that “Gypsy” revival.  “Patrick!” I will call across the street, confused as to why he doesn’t answer. “Paul!” “Poindexter!”

Sigh. I filed his name away, of course, but all I’ve got is the 26 baskets, and they get a little overfull sometimes. There goes Peter down the steps of the Christopher Street Station, and there goes my big chance to find out what happens next.

If only, I often think, I could just get an Overdrive button.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tween Grandma

My mother was 39 when she gave birth to me, and, by the standards of the time, it was a geriatric pregnancy. I grew up surrounded by blue-collar kids who were the products of hastily arranged teen marriages, so my mother was always the oldest mom at any school gathering, even older than the principal. She always seemed to feel her age, and to communicate that discomfort to me. So, knowing how keenly she felt each of the years that separated the two of us, I think it’s something of a blessing that she was at least allowed to get to know my children, if only fleetingly.

On the day she died, my mom was in town, visiting, and had spent her last hours on earth tending to then 7-month-old Mary Katherine, while I was off at a department meeting. I can remember getting home that day, and asking mom if she wanted to go out and run some errands, figuring she was bored from being in the house all day with a baby. She was happy to go along with me – she loved “bumming around,” as she called it – but, instead of being bored, I remember that she was glowing about her granddaughter. One of the last things she said to me was, “She is just the sweetest baby.” And then she laid down where she was and died in my arms, while Emma, age three, watched the whole thing unfold.

Since I was 39 myself when I gave birth to Mary Katherine, I suppose I have a strong sense of that circle coming back around, and I’ve considered the sad possibility that I might not get to see the children my own girls have someday. We speculate together about those kids sometimes – if, for example, by some ironic twist of fate, Emma has only hyper-feminine girly-girls and Mary Katherine is stuck with a passel of unruly boys. (“We’d just trade them,” Emma says matter-of-factly. “We share everything, anyway.”) I offer dire warnings about the type of no-holds-barred Granny I plan to be, with potato chips for breakfast and no discernible bedtimes.

Still, I wonder if any of this will ever come to pass, probably the way a tweeny girl wonders if she’ll ever grow up to become a real-for-true-teenager. Emma insisted, when she was twelve, that she be referred to as a “two teen,” and I suppose I have her same sort of let’s-get-on-with-this anticipation toward grandmothering lately, especially when I have the chance to spend time with my favorite seven-year-old pal, Maren. Of course I’m not her actual grandmother, any more than a 12-year-old Emma was anything like the driver’s-license-carrying, job-holding young woman she is today. But sometimes, it’s nice to pretend that it’s so.

I spent some extended time with Maren over the past few days, and I promise that no cute kid stories are forthcoming, just a quick appreciation of her many marvels. She is, really, something that should be a very ordinary phenomenon and is, in fact, a rarity – a little girl who is being raised by two people who clearly have put the duties of parenting above everything else in their lives – above their own egos, their own pasts or their own need just to lay down for Five Minutes and Stop That Kid from Chattering.

It is obvious, within minutes of spending time with her, how loved she is, and how she can just lean back and relax in that love. As someone who spends volunteer time with children at the crisis nursery, I have grown sadly used to being with kids who cannot, under any circumstances, relax for even a tiny moment, so I can tell you that Maren’s ease – with life, with herself, with others – is a lovely thing to observe.

What is remarkable to me is how comfortable she is in her own (very skinny) skin, which is something I recently got to observe first-hand. Late on Sunday afternoon, when I was running out of fresh ideas for fun new things to do, I suggested that we try a Big Girl Bath and Glamour Time, and promised her free rein in the tub with the Jacuzzi jets. She was wary. She hates loud noises, she told me, but she trusted my vow that I would not run the jets for one second longer than she wanted.

The look of joy that passed over her freckly, gap-toothed face when the bubbly jets connected with her rangy little self – that was a daymaker, let me tell you. For me, to have the chance to hang out on the edge of a tub again -- chatting and shampooing and being careful not to get soap in her eyes and watching when she laid back and let her hair spread in the water just like a real mermaid -- in a way I have not done in a very long time – well, that was enough to make me realize that I really am a Tween Grandmother, ready to move up to that next stage of life that seems so far over the horizon.

For now, I will be content to take this wonderful little girl to some children's theater matinees, or to play Barbies with her on a slow Sunday afternoon. And, perhaps someday, once she’s driving around town and going out with boys and astounding me with her fabulous teenaged self, I’ll be helping Emma’s daughters try on pink ballerina dresses, or letting Mary Katherine’s sons teach me the finer points of ice hockey. And that, my friends, will be a very good thing. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Making them up as I go along

If you think the people you associate with don’t have very specific rules for holidays, try switching things up one year and observe what happens. “Let’s have lasagna for dinner on Thanksgiving, and let’s eat at noon instead of six.” “Let’s spend Christmas at my family’s house instead of yours.” “What if we don’t put up a tree this year?” Did you hear that shrieking? Yeah, they’ve got rules, all right.

The thing about me is that I’ve never much cared about following any rules, let alone holiday ones. My life would probably be easier if I were always sure of the One Way that things had to be, but I’m usually more interested in seeing what would happen if I tried something different and stood back for a longer look. 

It’s a lifeview I took with me into motherhood, so my children have suffered through the year when we didn’t get a Christmas tree until we smuggled one out of a closed lot on Christmas Eve, or the Thanksgiving “Democracy Rules” dinner, when everyone got to vote on what they wanted to eat, and we ended up with dumplings and brownies. So far, they’re surviving.

It’s not that I don’t like holidays. I just prefer to make up new ones, which are usually a lot more fun. Like the tradition of taking a couple carfuls of kids every December to the community center gingerbread house-making event, and pretending not to notice when the years slid by, and the kids got so big and tall that they’re now consistently mistaken for parents. The constant whoops of joy coming from our table, where the boys try to craft elf heads on pikes, or re-create vampire-reindeer wars with nothing more than red licorice and pretzel sticks, are well worth any confused looks from the other participants, who tend toward the one-nice-granny-with-a-four-year-old demographic.

Sometimes I get so deep in the throes of a newly minted tradition that I don’t realize how entrenched it has become. I hadn’t realized that our pickup-game-style Easter Egg hunts, normally conducted with whomever happened to be standing around at the time and was wearing a warm-enough jacket, had become “a thing.” But when I went back and starting printing out group photos from years past, I realized there were a lot of years that had passed. That invented holiday, I realize in retrospect, has been a keeper.

We celebrated one of our self-created days yesterday, and ended up talking about one I’d already forgotten, so it was a nice break from the current action of my life, which has been trending not-so-hot of late. This holiday is called “Going to the Lands,” and it involves Mary Katherine and Olivia, plus (and you might be noticing a theme emerging here) whoever else happens to be hanging around that day. Celebration requires, at minimum, a visit to the annual spring flower show at the store-formerly-known-as-Dayton’s and an afterwards (never before!) visit to Candyland, where one-quarter pound of candy must be purchased for each child. Also, every single time, Mary Katherine will get Sour Patch kids as her candy selection, which is the dumbest candy choice ever, but I don’t think that’s a rule so much as a phenomenon.

Yesterday was the only day that Olivia, a very busy eighth grader (president of her class, not that I'm bragging), was going to be free. As luck (my kind of luck, lately) would have it, it was a day in which I’d already crammed a number of grownuppy and workish activities. But I promised her that I’d get my nose to the grindstone and still manage to be in her driveway at 2 p.m., and, more or less, I was. It wouldn’t be a Kendrick holiday without extra guests and several automobile trips to gather up participants, and this one was no different. Olivia’s younger sister wanted to come along (sure, if you don’t mind double buckling, sweetie), and I had to drive back across town to get Mary Katherine and Maren, our favorite seven-year-old. It’s called “Going to the Lands” because, on a previous visit, a younger Olivia had happily observed that the nooks and crannies of the various settings at the show “were like little lands.” The Holiday Name was born; some things you just don’t change.

It was a lovely respite of an afternoon, and I was happy just to be together with the people I love for no particular reason, which I guess is why holidays were invented in the first place. I paid no attention to the fact that Olivia is now taller than me, or that Maren can read the names of all the flowers by herself and doesn’t really need a whole lot of help for anything, not even for shoelace-tying. In my perfect holiday world, everyone is four years old, including me, and yesterday felt like a perfect world.

Things were a little less perfect when we pulled out of the parking garage and saw that, on April 5, it had started to snow. All the green lands we’d been looking at for the past hour had tricked us into thinking that spring might be coming, so we were a bit desolate as we tottered home in the bulging Beetle (me, two teens, a tween, and a luckily very slender seven-year-old). That’s when Olivia decided to cheer us up by talking about another made-up holiday.

“Remember the Breakfast Picnic?” she asked. I did, and they did, although they remembered details like cinnamon rolls, which they either made up or which I had long ago forgotten. The basics of the holiday were that, as soon as they woke up on a beautiful Sunday morning (which was mighty early in those days), I gathered up blankets and food and camera and took them to the Walker Sculpture Garden for a Breakfast Picnic, an event of my own invention. We were alone in the park (because every other normal person was still asleep), which gave everything the magical feeling that the whole beautiful space existed just for us. We fed ducks (I guess they liked those cinnamon rolls, if I can trust what the children tell me), and the kids stood on all the sculptures that had big “no standing” signs by them while I took pictues.

As I fell asleep last night, I thought about that day, and I was thinking about it when I woke up this morning. I rooted around and found those pictures I'd taken. No one had taken any pictures of me, but that was okay. I can tell you how I looked – I looked tired. I had a carful of kids, it was early in the morning, and somehow I had talked myself into baking cinnamon rolls and talked them into how much fun it would be if we tried eating them outdoors. 

But even though I was tired, I did it anyway, and I am so proud of myself now for making the effort. I want to reach out to that Julie of May 2008 and tell her, good girl. You made something happen that these young women still remember – a green space and a perfect morning and a little bit of fun. It doesn’t matter that you were tired then, or that you’re even more tired now. You made up a holiday five years ago, a good one. And that, Julie Kendrick, was something worthwhile.