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My Mind was Set

I set up a meeting with my school advisor to discuss my upcoming semester. Junior was spending the morning with a friend but I decided to take Daisy along to the meeting. We needed some one on one time anyway and I promised her lunch at the school cafeteria. There were fewer students on the campus and the walkways were almost empty, so Daisy ran ahead of me and climbed on the short walls and steps along the sidewalk. Her legs had gotten longer this year and I couldn’t dress her in short dresses anymore since she was more little girl than little.

Daisy was very polite with the advisor, who sat behind a giant wooden desk. While we spoke, Daisy looked over the book I brought to keep her busy. I wanted Daisy to go to college right after high school instead of playing catch up like me. The advisor was not overly impressed with my big two class schedule but I did my best to act like a student who would eventually take on more classes as my day job being a mom decreased. The advisor told me that until students starting taking half a full schedule, they usually didn’t need much attention. Full time students required the most attention. Being taken for granted is probably commonplace for older students. The advisor dismissed my slight concerns and told me to check the catalog for my next choices. I gave him my weakest smile, collected my daughter and headed for the quad. Daisy returned to climbing and running as we walked toward the building that housed the cafeteria. Some of the students lay on blankets on the grass, some reading, some talking to each other and some staring at the clouds. It looked relaxing and they didn’t seem to be stressed over their studies.

Daisy pushed her tray along the food line and I lifted her a few times to help her make her sections. She was excited to see so many desserts but had a hard time picking the perfect one because they all looked delicious. We stopped and I broke down the selections for her – pie, cake or pudding, chocolate, fruit or not, with whipped cream or not. Eventually, she settled on chocolate cake with whipped topping. Daisy smiled up at me and thanked me. Everyone needs help with choice at times. Especially when there are a lot of good ones.

Maybe I needed to think about college like a younger person. There were a lot of choices but manageable if I used logic. The quad was a place of fun and not just the way to get from one place to another. I was really lucky to live in our beautiful home to do my studying and enjoy my family while doing my coursework. Going to school was definitely a challenge and I think next semester might be a good time to add another class. That would make me a half-time student. I could handle that.

Watching other people sometime helps me make up my own mind. School was something my mind was set on. Having the outlook of a student made me feel like the whole world was out there for me to learn about. As Daisy balanced on the small wall next to the sidewalk, I stepped up behind her and followed her lead.

It’s Not the Heat, it’s the Hot

Summers are generally very warm at some point. Those first few days really feel good as the sunshine tans my skin after the cold of winter and the wet chill of spring. Spring gets away with being cool because it is extra pretty. The good thing about summer are the trips to the club pool or hanging outside with a cool drink. Every day this week has been an extra level of hot though. I could feel the wall of air when I opened the door to go outside. Even my cigarette smoking felt excessively hot. At the club, I jumped into the pool multiple times yesterday and finally just borrowed one of the inflatables the kids were using and floated around in the water. I may have looked a little silly, but I felt better.

When we came home, the children hid in their rooms playing in the cool air. Thank goodness for air conditioning. Growing up, we just had box fans in the windows moving hot air around. When Steve came home from work, he was concerned about his grass going dormant and not looking great, so he positioned the sprinkler on the front lawn. He sat in a chair in the shade with Francis between the houses as Francis watered his lawn also. I brought out a drink to Steve and noticed that Francis had a bottle of beer already. It was too hot to cook a big meal but I had prepared some salads for dinner. It was really too hot to eat. From time to time, the guys would get up and move their sprinklers, getting a little wet in the process.

After eating, Steve and the kids went back outside while Steve and Francis continued their watering. When they moved their sprinklers, they repositioned their chairs a little, always on the edge of the water’s reach. The children came out and ran around the lawn close enough to get a little wet. When Marie-Claire came out, they played sprinkler tag. At least, they wouldn’t need baths. After cleaning up the dishes, I made myself a drink and called Chloe to see if she wanted to join me outside. Her phone rang but she didn’t answer. She was probably taking a bubble bath or doing something French women do.

As I turned around the corner of the house, I was completely taken back by the scene on the front lawn. There was a giant game of sprinkler tag going on with squeals of laughter coming from the participants. I stopped short when I saw who was playing. Joining the kids on the lawn were Steve, Francis and Chloe, all chasing one another as they slipped on the wet grass. More than that, Zettie Louise was chasing along drenched in her usual olive drab. What a sight! I sipped my drink as they played, not even noticing me. It’s at a time like this I wish I carried my camera around with me.

A couple of minutes later, a really wet and dripping Chloe dragged me into the game. I tried hard to refuse but she hugged me and pulled me in. Once I was wet, there wasn’t much use in not playing. I was a tagged immediately by Junior and had to get up to speed to catch somebody else to be it. It took a minute or two since I slipped on my wet sandals but eventually I grabbed the back of Steve’s shorts and got him. Catching my breath, I went to the edge of the water and grabbed my drink to take a sip. When I looked up, I noticed Mags and Harold sitting on chairs on their lawn watching our spectacle. Mags waved when she saw me look up. It was then I realized that Harold had his movie camera out and was filming the scene. How embarrassing! Oh well, you are only young once I thought as I ran back into the sprinkler.

See you Later

Motherhood is grueling. Endless nights without sleep, followed by days of feeding, changes, cleaning and caring. The compensation can be tricky. A toothless smile or a giggle can make it all worthwhile. My mother called me to tell me about the need to care for her older brother. My uncle was born several years before my mother came along and there was a gap between her and her older siblings. She was raised differently since her parents were probably worn out by the time she came along. Since she was the baby of the family, each of them had depended on her to take care of them in various ways as they grew old before her. They cared for her as a baby, and she cared for them at the other end of life. Due to some health concerns, my uncle was going to have to move in with my mother. He was a childless widower with enough savings to go to a nursing home, but my mother thought it would be nicer for him to be at home. His house was put up for sale, many of his things were given away and he was ready to be moved. My mother’s attitude surprised me. She sounded as if she was looking forward to his coming. I can’t recall her acting as if she loved being a mother when I was young but maybe I just assumed she put up with us because it was her job. I told Steve that I was going to drive over to see my mother in case she needed any help.

When I arrived at my mother’s house, she was humming and cleaning. I couldn’t remember ever hearing her do that before. We sat down for coffee and she told me I looked tired. Now that was the mother I remembered. I still had lingering feelings about somehow letting her down in life. After we made up the spare bedroom, I sat down on the edge of the bed to catch my breath. My mother took another concerned look at me and she knew. I did not know what to say to her because I didn’t know how I felt about having another baby. She reminded me that she was a surprise baby and I got her point. I was trying to accept what happened. The weird part was that I didn’t feel pregnant.

We picked up my uncle and all had a delicious dinner together. My mother made my favorite childhood meal and my uncle was very grateful for her taking him in and said so repeatedly. Before I drove home, my mother and I had a talk about taking care of myself. I realized at that point that my mother may have enjoyed being a mom. She sure liked the idea of having her brother with her and she understood what was going on with me without my saying it. Maybe motherhood at the other end of life isn’t as grueling. I had much to think about and promised my mother that I would check in more often. She reminded me that we can’t always plan what would happen in life. Then she gave me some words to ponder. Mother told me that things were not as good as I wanted all the time, but they weren’t as bad as I imagined. I drove home in silence thinking about those words.

That night, my period started and the moment was bittersweet. No baby. just a chance to practice what I said I wanted to preach. I called my Mother in the morning and let her know so she wouldn’t worry about me. She had planned a day for my uncle – the barbershop for a shave and haircut. I couldn’t recall the last time that Steve went to Charles’ Barbershop for a shave. It was a mysterious practice to me with straight-edges, hot towels and tonic. I would never know how indulgent that must be. I mentioned the shave business to Steve that night. He thought that getting a shave at a barber shop was for old men on special occasions but did admit that it felt great to have someone actually shave your face that closely. I thought more about it later as I perched on the edge of the bathtub with a razor in my hand while shaving my own legs. I borrowed Steve’s shaving cream cup and brush and lathered up to see if I could shave more closely. It felt okay but I probably wouldn’t do it again; my time is precious and I need to shave a couple of times each week to keep the stubble under control. I wish someone would invent a shop that shaves legs for women. It could have little bathtubs that we could perch on while some devoted professional gallantly shaved away. I doubt it will ever happen, but a girl can dream.

Laissez-Faire

I really didn’t know who to call. Normally, I can share anything with Mags, but I wasn’t sure she would understand the anxiety I was feeling. Edie and Gail would probably resent me for not being elated and Sarah might burst into tears. I wondered if I knew Chloe well enough to tell her I was late. My cycle is never late. I keep track of it on the kitchen calendar with coded symbols that only I understand. But I surely was three days late. Too soon to visit the doctor but not too soon to panic. I felt bloated too. I took the children to the club and kept my baggy t-shirt on the whole time we were there. Later, I was cranky with Steve.

Chloe must have seen me sitting on the back steps smoking and came over to sit with me. I wasn’t my usual happy self but she didn’t press. In fact, she got up and walked away. I saw her pull her shears out of her apron pocket and start to cut some flowers from her garden. I was a little upset at her lack of caring until she returned a few minutes later with a bouquet that she handed to me. She had somehow taken a long green stem, stripped it of its leaves and woven it into a tie to hold it together. I took it from her and inwardly berated myself for reacting so selfishly when Chloe went to do something nice for me. I talked a good game about letting life happen but knew that being pregnant would replace my school plans with more years of diapering. The children were already in school, our life had an ease to it after years of work, and I was headed backwards. That sounded harsh even in my head. On the other hand, another baby would be okay; I loved my children. I could probably go back to school in a couple of years again. Or give it up and just be a good mom to three great kids.

I looked over at Chloe and gave her a very weak smile. It was then I realized Chloe’s superpower. She didn’t judge. She just let me be happy or sad or in between. I asked her what kind of flower the large one was because it was so unfamiliar. She waited a half-second and chuckled a little. I like her laugh and I knew something smart was coming. According to Chloe, it was a laissez-faire flower. That sounded familiar but I still didn’t get it. Chloe poked me in the arm and we got up and I went inside.

I pulled down a crystal vase for the bouquet. I still didn’t know what Chloe had been trying to tell me, but just like that beautiful flower, I would find my place with this concern. I put the vase on the dining room table and set it carefully for dinner. I have pretty things and need to use them and keep a beautiful home. If there was a surprise coming, the time to enjoy life as much as possible was right now. Time would take care of my other worries.

Ready Aim Shoot

The highlight of the neighborhood every summer is our block party. It’s open to everyone on Calista Court but there are infiltrators from nearby streets that are drawn to our fun.  W don’t kick them out because it’s good to get to know everyone who lives in our division. Since we live in the center of the street, most of the events are set up right in front of our house. It does require Steve to hose down the street the day after, but any excuse to hang out with a hose and water works for him. Harold always joins him to remove any lingering spills and they can talk for hours out there.

Judy Anne was coordinating the party this year with help from a committee of other neighbors. Everyone had received a flyer with all the pertinent info in their mail slots. Chloe had picked up my mail from the floor behind the front door slot and cared for Snowball while we were away, so I read the block party news when we returned. A couple of new events had been added that the children would like. The sidewalks would be the site for chalk drawing and Zettie Louise was breaking out her archery target for the older kids. That was probably the mysterious project that Junior was helping her with.

The dessert contest was still fruit based. I was worried about the effects of hot weather on my Bananas and Strawberry Pudding Icebox cake but I was still committed to the challenge. My last one unfolded nicely and Steve loved it. Daisy ate all the whipped cream off the top and followed that by eating the strawberries. It wasn’t so pretty in the eating stage.

The morning of the party was cool and sunny and as soon as the sawhorses were in place blocking the street, the men starting putting up the tables, signs were placed and the obstacle course was set up. Zettie Louise mounted her target on the flatbed of a truck parked in the center of the street away from the food. A genius idea; the arrows would be caught in the truck if they didn’t hit the mark. After the morning work was done, the guys returned home to shower and dress. I had purchased new Bermuda shorts for Steve and me that matched – baby blue. He wasn’t crazy about the idea, but went along with it because our shirts didn’t match.

I set up my chairs out front and gradually everyone in my group brought theirs out also to form a good semi-circle viewing area. I brought out two extra so Chloe would feel comfortable. I had found new red, white and blue webbed chairs and thought they would be appropriate for either France or the States, so Chloe could choose where to sit. I knew Steve would make Frances hang with the men at the grilling area.

First block parties can be intimidating. As the neighborhood guys started their grilling tasks, the beer keg was tapped and the glorious smells of summer barbecue started. Everyone brought out their side dishes and desserts. Judy Anne danced around the tables adjusting and directing the food placement. After I put out my food, I sat down with Daisy behind me drawing on our sidewalk. Chloe, Frances and Marie Claire came out and joined us. Steve came by and stole Frances away and I reached over to get a drink from the cooler. Steve had iced down my favorite selections of pop from Friel’s. That was when I noticed a second cooler and opened it to find pale pink wine swimming in ice water. I usually have some special drink selected for the party but was lazy this year and didn’t plan ahead. Chloe reached over and deftly opened a bottle and tossed the cork back into the ice water. Chloe had supplied the special beverage. She let me know that ice water was the secret to great chilled French wine. Chloe pulled wine glasses from her bag, poured the pretty liquid and handed me a glass just as Mags, Sarah, Edie and Gail came walking up. They had all brought their own wine glasses. Apparently, I was the only one unprepared. We toasted Judy Anne as she flopped down into an open chair. With everything in place, another block party began. Some strangers from around the next block checked it out and we encouraged them to stay and have fun. Daisy and Marie Claire rode the obstacle course on their bikes and decorated our sidewalks. Junior worked the crowd playing archery with Zettie Louise. Steve and the men cooked and we all ate well.

My dessert didn’t win any prizes and it was pretty sloppy looking after a few spoonfuls had been removed. But Chloe had a Tart Tatin that everyone raved about. The hot food was great and the men had simmered some bratwurst in a big pot on one of the grills. So smart. The old me might have been disappointed that I didn’t go to the trouble of selecting a special drink for the day or presenting a beautiful dessert. In truth, everything worked out without my planning well. In fact, that apple dessert Chloe made went perfectly with the wine. I should let go more; maybe not frequently, but just enough to let something unplanned happen. Who knows what could happen if I planned less?

Coming Home

On the way home, I picked up a few groceries that would get us through the next day. I made sure there were good non-perishables before I left but needed a few cold things to start the morning off right. The downside of going away was coming back. The next morning, I had small mountains of laundry sorted in the utility room and Snowball, our cat, was using one to nap on. Daisy was outside with Marie-Claire, who was filling her in on what her dolls did while Daisy was away. Junior had run down to Zettie Louise’s house as soon as we returned. She must have let him know telepathically that she wanted his help with some important matters, so he got up early enough to eat a quick breakfast and run out the back door.

Instead of sleeping in, Steve got up, grabbed his clubs and headed to the club for 18 holes of torture. He looked pretty happy when he left and he surely deserved this chance to play golf. With everyone out of the house, I could play the music I liked and work on the laundry without rushing. I opened the window over the sink to let in some cool air. I even stopped to pet the cat, who looked at me quizzically since I was sitting on the floor next to the laundry. The trip had given me permission to slow down, and not live up to everyone else’s expectations.

After a break for lunch with Daisy, she left again to go over to Chloe’s. The house was quiet again and I decided to practice my dessert for the Block Party. I cleaned the strawberries and made the custard, taking time to let it thicken. I sliced the bananas right before layering them and wrapped up the whole dessert to chill. I could unfold it later as a special dessert.

Steve came back looking hot and tired. A true golf warrior, he told me  what he was going to work on when he played tomorrow. That man knows how to plan. After he showered, he made us cocktails and we stood in the utility room drinking and folding the laundry. The cat’s pile was finally loaded and Snowball walked away miffed. Chloe called and asked if Daisy could stay for dinner and overnight so I brought over her p.j.’s and stuffed friends. I was glad to see Chloe and she laughed when she saw how tanned I was. Chloe told me a proper French woman never got any sun. I pointed to her tanned arms and she laughed at herself. I told her that I would be over in the morning to talk and she could make me some fancy French coffee while we visited. We both grabbed each other’s arms and air-kissed each other on the cheeks. It had been a long time since we had done that but it signified how hard it was to be away from each other. In a year, Chloe and I had become good friends. I knew that I was happy to see her but my reaction even surprised me a little.

The following morning, I made breakfast for Steve and Junior and they both left for their jobs – Steve to golf and Junior to Zettie Louise’s. I cleaned up the dishes and walked across the yard to Chloe’s. The girls were sitting at the big wooden table under the chandalier in the dining room. Chloe had fully set the table with good china and silver. The girls wore large pastel hats with long strands of pearls over their nightgowns. There was a place set for me and I sat down to join their fancy breakfast. I apologized for not dressing appropriately and the girls giggled. Chloe came into the dining room with a large platter of breakfast foods. She placed the platter down and returned a moment later with a beautiful tray of sweets. What a feast! The girls politely waited to be served; I think Daisy was taking her instructions from Marie-Claire. Marie-claire has lovely manners. Chloe lifted her beautiful coffee pot and poured hot coffee into my cup and into her cup. For the girls, she took the creamer and filled half the cup before floating some coffee on top. So, this was how the French indoctrinated their youngsters. Chloe offered lumps of sugar to the girls and they both giggled as they daintily stirred. It was a beautiful breakfast filled with pleases and thank yous.

Life is funny. A couple of days ago, I was sipping coffee from a mug on the porch of the lakehouse. Yesterday, I was sitting on the laundry room floor drinking coffee with the cat as my companion. Today, I dined at the finest French cafe. I wonder what was going to happen tomorrow!

The Lake is Growing Up

With a few years of lake visits under our belts, Steve and I have started talking about how we feel about having a vacation home of our own. We both love our home in Monterey Park with our friends nearby, good schools and its proximity to Steve’s work. But seeing how Junior and Daisy have matured each summer at the lake is very easy to spot from year to year as they improve their swimming, fishing and fire-building skills. Every year, some small change that I didn’t notice at home seems very obvious at the lake. The little muscles on their arms and legs impressed me this time. Junior’s maturity in difficult circumstances was news; even Daisy was more proactive in helping Steve make a fire. Previously, she would have sat back nervously and moved forward only with an adult close to her. My children are shedding their “little kidness.” What would this mean to me and Steve?

When the children were really babies, it seemed like all my time was tied up with caring for them. Their safety and needs always came first. I can remember after Junior was born, I didn’t change out of my nightgown for a few days because I was afraid not be right there for him if he needed me. Now, on the rare occasions when he bellows out for me, I sometimes tell him to lower his voice; I need to stop that.

I like the tradition of our lake trips. What started out as a great perk from Steve’s boss,Buck, has allowed us as a family to make great memories together. My intention with this trip was to actively make memories for all of us. Pictures of all of us, little mementos of our activities, even some little stories will help me keep these treasures as we all grow up. Even Steve and I have fallen into our own lake rhythm and the rush of the work days disappeared. I wanted the days to be less structured this time to allow for new opportunities to just pop up. But it would be okay for nothing to happen also.

On our last night, we had a long, funny diner with multiple courses and lots of celebrating. Earlier this week, I gave everyone blue construction paper ribbons to make for each other as awards. I instructed the children on the procedures in toast-making and brought out cold sparkling cider for us to read our toasts to each other. I wish I had thought to record it, but took pictures instead. Next year, I am going to bring a tape recorder.

The morning we left, Steve walked us all down to the dock where we all sat down together quietly. He had made coffee for himself and me and hot chocolate for the kids. We watched the morning birds, bugs and fish in the water. The sun was up but not high enough to be hot and a light mist made the water sparkle. At one point, a giant crane flew past us with a fish in its mouth and we all made sounds of awe. We were a family all experiencing a moment in time. That memory will be ingrained. After a while, we said our sad goodbyes to the lake but Daisy brought the smile back to our faces when she added, “See you next year.”

The trip home was unhurried and there was giggling and stories galore. I began to understand that as we talked, we were reinforcing our thoughts on what we will remember about this trip. As I focused on the faces of my happy family, their voices drifted away. Having our own place for vacations might become an option in the future, but anywhere were all went together in the future would result in amazing memories because we had figured that part out already.

A Boy and His Hat

There are loyalties in life. I prefer a specific brand in ketchup, peanut butter and cigarettes, but I wouldn’t say no to another brand if that was all there were available. The same is not always true for little boys and their current favorite ball caps.  Junior has to be told sometimes to remove his hat in the house, at the table and before sleeping. It resides on his night stand for easy access and is always on his head throughout the summer. He sweats in it, wears it for luck and status, and to keep the sun out of his eyes. Basically, it tells his friends everything they need to know about his current favorite sports team. Granted, the hat changes from season to season or year to year as the sporting seasons come and go. Junior’s team doesn’t have to be a winner, it just has to be his. Steve sometimes wears a ball cap but he tends to wear free ones he gets from work or golfing events. He wears a hat when it is hot or he is working outside. I guess they both don’t mind that they wear previously sweated-in caps. Boys are icky that way.

The lake has some inherent dangers which we discuss with the kids on the way up. First aid kits are always packed so that I don’t use up June’s supply and what to do if you see a big creature is always a hot topic. I refuse to answer questions about elephants and tigers because I just can’t see that happening. The danger I didn’t think about was the wind on the lake. It was very blustery when we left the dock for our boat ride and picnic. The cooler was packed, extra towels and clothes were in a duffel bag and the kids had life preservers on. Sadly, Junior’s hat was not glued to his head. I heard him yell and looked over in time to see it blow off his head and disappear into the water. Oh no! His favorite hat sunk faster than the Titanic. There was no use in stopping to even attempt to find it. Junior’s face looked crushed. He sat back in his seat and bit his lip a little. This is one boy who needs a hat. Daisy sat next to him but he pulled away from her and folded his arms and looked broken.

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is alleviating disappointment for children. Life is somehow unfair at the worst times. When we slowed down at the gas dock, I told Steve what happened. He told me that Junior would get over it. When we dock for gas everybody has a job. I usually jump off as soon as Steve gets next to the dock to pull the ropes up to the cleats. The kids like to get off and run up the long dock to the store to say hello to the dock master, Sam. But Junior didn’t want to get off the boat and sat there as Steve started to pump the gas. I followed Daisy up to the store to see what she was up to. In the store, Daisy was busy emptying out her little pink purse, spilling a couple of crumpled bills along with change all over the counter. Sam was counting her money and pulled $2.50 off to the side. Sam told Daisy to pick out whatever hat she wanted off of the display. She smartly overlooked the hats with fish and pointed to a dark blue hat emblazoned with a tiger on it and Sam pulled it down for her. Daisy scooped up the rest of her loot and ran out to the boat, presumably to give it to her brother. It was a sweet idea but I wasn’t sure how open little Stevie was yet to a new hat so soon after his big loss. As I signed for the gas, Sam handed me back Daisy’s $2.50. He told me that he couldn’t resist Daisy’s desire to make her brother happy again.

When I got back to the boat, the kids and Steve were ready to go but the hat wasn’t on Junior’s head. Daisy didn’t seem upset by this so I didn’t say anything. We left for our boat ride, stopping at a favorite little island for a picnic on the beach. It was really hot now that the wind had stopped and the kids ran in and out of the water while we sat on the blanket. We all played a game of water tag that Junior invented. The rules include the fact that if you leave the water, you are automatically “It.” We stayed in the water a long time and I never got tagged.

As we headed back, Steve asked Junior if he wanted to drive the boat. Daisy and I settled into our seats and held on in case there were rough waves ahead. We have experienced Junior’s driving previously. Happily, Junior’s driving had improved since last year. He stood with his shirt off holding onto the wheel with his little tanned muscles, only veering off as he tried to shade his eyes from the afternoon sun with one hand and then the other. Eventually, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his new cap. His two-handed steering improved the course and he smiled.

When we returned to the dock at the house, Daisy and I started to gather our belongings. When we got close to the dock, Junior hopped out first and pulled the ropes to tie the boat up – a first for him. He held Daisy’s hand as she got off the boat and they walked up the dock together. There will be disappointments in life for sure. But it turns out that our kids are loyal to each other’s brand.

Inevitably, A Little Rain Must Fall

When we have a rainy day at the lake, Junior is the first one to break into the game closet. June stocked it with games for her family when they were younger and there are card games, old fashioned board games and puzzles. After breakfast, the children are able to entertain themselves for a couple of hours until lunch. Daisy sometimes asks Junior to help her during games even when they are competitors. That’s trust.

Knowing that there is always a cool wet day allows me to plan for a hot soup and sandwich day to counteract the weather. While I prepared the soup, Steve snoozed off and on in front of the fireplace. We only made indoor fires when it rained and I imagined it must be nice in the fall to have it available. After lunch, the kids needed some different entertainment, so we all played Bingo and charades. Winners choose the next game and Steve and Daisy won the last game of charades, so it was their choice. Steve suggested we all sit around the fire and read. My insides were clapping but I wanted to see the children’s reactions. They were both initially excited to get paid to read when Steve suggested it previously. He reminded Daisy and Junior of his offer and knew that I always packed books on trips for them. In addition, there was a small corner bookcase that had books and an old atlas available. We had never really explored its contents before, so Steve suggested we start there. Steve pulled a couple of pillows onto the floor and the children followed him over to the bookcase. Steve sent Junior to bring some flashlights. For the next couple of hours, the three of them sat cozily in that corner pouring over maps, reading excerpts of books and poems and giggling. It was fun to experience as I sat in the corner of the sofa reviewing a textbook for one of my next classes.

Later that afternoon, I made hot chocolate and we all sat out on the porch listening to the thunder and watching the lightning. I wondered if this would become a forever memory for the kids. I knew it would be for me. After dinner and a rousing game of Fish, I put the children to bed. Steve stoked the fire and moved the sofa closer to the fireplace. I fixed some hot toddies and put them on a tray with brownies that I baked that afternoon. We cuddled up in front of the fire and watched the flames jump around and crackle. I told Steve how good he was with the kids and how much I appreciated his keeping them busy while I read my textbook. Steve acknowledged that he had a lot of things he wanted to do with the children but didn’t want to overstep my plans. I had no idea that I had taken over to the degree that he didn’t feel comfortable jumping in with the children. Strangely enough, Steve said he realized that if I could feel competent enough to take over grilling, he could certainly spend any time he chose with his children. I had no words to say; I had mistaken his silence after the burger event to his being put out but he was really just thinking through something he hadn’t faced before.

I reminded Steve that we made a good team. Parenting really takes two at its best and childcare duties can be seen as women’s work. Steve said that he definitely wanted to be a better dad than his own. Steve said that his dad would never have sat with him on the floor on pillows. Fatherhood was definitely evolving, along with motherhood. I felt as if Steve had created another memory for me that day. We were both changing and I knew that we would stay on the same path with the children. I enjoyed the possibility of adapting to the continuing changes of our modern world. As we approach the last years of the 1950s, life is still improving. Change never bothered me too much, but uncertainty sometimes makes me think twice and plan.

Man or Beast

Thanks to our cave ancestors, men sometimes cook, especially if the cooking is done outside. The grill brings out the long buried need of the average man to burn pieces of captured meat. In the case of my family, I wanted to cook burgers at the lake on the outside grill. I prepped all of the necessities, forming burgers from my homemade mix of finely chopped short rib and chuck meat. I developed the recipe over many years and friends have commented on how delicious my burgers were without knowing about my secret mix. It took extra time, but was completely worth it. The sides were my equally delicious potato salad, corn of the cob and chilled watermelon.

While completing the prep work in the kitchen, I took a break to go outside to start the grill. Being a former girl scout, I can make a decent fire. It never missed my notice that we were taught fire skills without the benefit of boys around, so they probably never knew we had them. As I waited for the briquettes to heat up and turn white around the edges, I sat back, smoked and enjoyed a glass of adult lemonade. The adult lemonade had some vodka in it and lots of lime wedges. I used lemon slices in the prepared kids lemonade version so everyone would know the difference. Plus the kids won’t touch anything with green in it. Steve and the kids returned from the lake and I told the kids to go inside to hang up their bathing suits and change before dinner. Steve sat down with me and helped himself to a drink from my glass while poking my briquettes.

I left to go inside to finish my work. Once the burgers were ready, I buttered the buns and set the table. By that time, the kids were available to help with the chores and came outside to grill the burgers with me. They described all the fun they had on the boat and a large snapping turtle that swam close to the dock. Daisy was concerned about her toes being bitten off when she next dangled her legs in the water. Junior told her that he would watch if it came near. Their arms and faces were warm and tan and Daisy’s curls looked golden in the late afternoon sun.

When Steve joined us, I was standing at the grill getting ready to flip the burgers. He asked to hold the metal spatula and I asked why he needed it. He explained that he was “ready to take over” and I told him that I was alright with the cooking. Steve stood silently next to me watching my work. It looked like he didn’t know what to do next. I told him that he could relax.

Dinner was delicious and we took the watermelon out on the deck to spit some seeds. Junior was a good spitter, and between giggles, Daisy spat a few also. When it was my turn, I got lucky and one of mine went really far. I noticed that Junior had used his entire body when he spat, and repeated what he did. Junior was proud of me and clapped. Steve decided that he could definitely spit farther than me and joined us. He asked for a practice spit, but Daisy pointed out that no one else got one, so he huffed a little and let his seed fly.

After that, I returned to the kitchen for clean up. There were a lot of dishes and when Junior and Daisy came in to help, but I asked them to get the campfire snacks out first. Soon, the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate were all laid out on a tray and the kids went outside to gather sticks. Steve came in for another drink and stood for a minute while I washed the dishes. I asked him if he wanted to help and he silently starting drying. When the kids came in to tell him they had found enough little sticks, he tossed down the drying towel and left to start the fire in the pit. I knew that Steve was probably upset on my refusal to hand over the spatula to him to finish cooking the burgers, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Steve seemed in a better mood while we toasted the marshmallows and kept a great fire going. I took the kids inside to get ready for bed and they quickly fell asleep from all the fun they had on the lake. I joined Steve outside carrying a tray of cocktails with a bowl of his favorite snack mix. We sat quietly for a few minutes, mostly due to exhaustion. He asked me why I wouldn’t let him cook the burgers and I told him that he may not have noticed that I was able to cook them as well as the next guy.