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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.

What Do You Intend To Do About It

Before leaving for the lake, I thought about how to make it a better experience for my family. I wanted to make memories. And not just for the children. We have been super lucky to have the chance to spend time together at Buck and June’s beautiful vacation home for a couple of summers. I know that Steve works hard for Buck and sometimes treats him better than the other managers but Steve makes Buck’s life easier by taking on the harder assignments. The employees respect Steve and he gets results by treating them fairly.

Looking back at the pictures developed from our last lake trip, I wanted to remember to pose the kids in the same place every trip to account for their growth. There are very few pictures of me as a child and when I look at them, they remind me of the event that prompted the picture taking. I knew we would have formal pictures taken for graduations and school pictures every year, but everyday life was somehow missing. My intention was to take more pictures to document our life at the lake. I was planning on placing these pictures in a separate album and place little mementos of the trip in the album too. My hope was to prompt more memories for the kids later and maybe even preserve some memories for Steve and me along the way.

Although it seemed a little like creating a team jersey, I bought shirts in matching colors for the four of us. I have worn matching outfits with Daisy previously but she has become too big to want to match her mother. Daisy has a streak of independence that may make her teenage years difficult for me. But I think I will be able to handle her.

I was hoping that I would find someone at the restaurant at the lake to take a family picture of us. Or maybe some pictures of us eating ice cream at the parlor. I intend to take sunset shots too but will pose one of the kids on the dock before snapping. Junior even has a favorite tree he climbs to look out from that I have never bothered to take his picture in and that would be a keeper!

Creating experiences may seem a little contrived but I am going to think of it more as capturing our life. I can knit the pictures with scraps of items kept from the trip and make some memories. At least, that’s my intention. If it works, I can share my album with the girls to get their opinion.

Best Laid Plans

Our much anticipated trip to the lake was coming up quickly and I was trying to make all of the arrangements. With Steve off work for three weeks, we decided to use some of that time at Buck’s lake house and enjoy a few days at home. I volunteered that Steve could then play golf everyday he was home; I knew he would really enjoy that before returning to work. He reacted as if the thought had not occurred to him and agreed that his game could use some work. That way we would be back in time for the annual block party also; an event I really enjoy. It’s always fun to see how the children have grown from year to year and the conversations are always lively as we sit and watch the obstacle course, grilling and adults maneuver through the buffet. We were having a fruit dessert competition this year. I had chosen a recipe that I wanted to make but I always like to practice a few times before the event. My instinct was to be bold this year and try something different – an icebox cake. If the weather isn’t too warm, all will go well, but I wanted to experiment with the time needed for setup to get the best results. I already make a very good custard because I take a very scientific approach to the time needed to thicken it. I don’t look at the timer; I just know when it has become thick enough to hold. I was going to start my first practice recipe tomorrow and make another up at the lake to test the difference.

In the meantime, I was pulling out suitcases and looking for my lake list to make sure that I packed everything. Nights are a little cooler and the bugs always bite me the most, even when I don’t wear cologne. It must be my skin. I needed to pack extra sweatshirts and throws. The extra throws make it nicer to sit around the fire pit after sunset. The kids already know that it is their job to find sticks for the fire when they arrive at the lake; remembering the sticks always reminds me to pack extra matches. The matches make me remember the ingredients for wienie roasts and the special mustard that Steve likes. The hot dogs remind me to get frozen lemonade concentrate because I just don’t want to spend all day squeezing lemons. The lemonade remind me to pack gin and lots of lime. The gin reminds me to pack aspirin. I wonder if I still need a list? My philosophy is to pack enough to keep the runs to the grocery at a minimum.

While helping Daisy get ready for bed, I was counting how many nighties she had in case I wanted to get a few new ones. I asked Daisy if she was looking forward to the trip and she told me that she really needed a vacation. “Needed” was not the word I associated with Daisy and a vacation, so I asked her to tell me why. Daisy shared with me that there was so much for her to do that she needed some quiet time to spend with her books and toys. I wasn’t aware that she felt so stressed by her current schedule of life experiences. I sat down on the bed next to her and let her know that I always felt better after letting my batteries recharge too.

Daisy’s confession made me approach our upcoming trip differently. I wanted to build in some down time and might not plan every day so carefully. We could all use some days where we chose to fish, swim, hike the woods, play cards, or not. There would be lots of things that we would do together, but if someone begged off to do something more important to them, then so be it. I told Steve about my decision as we crawled into bed. He liked the idea and asked me how I felt about building the fire some nights or driving the boat. I thought for a moment before telling him that I would do those tasks  if he cooked some meals, cleaned up after everyone and bathed the kids every night. He sighed loudly and understood my point. I guess there is a balance to planning every day; I’m sure we would come to a compromise on how everything would get done. We always do.

Take Ten

I could feel myself hurrying. Instead of my customary habit of moving steadily from room to room picking up errant articles that had somehow found themselves out of place, I was making more of a mad dash, probably missing most of the offending items. I woke up a little later than usual and thought that I had to make up for that extra ten minutes of sleep. Although I have a lovely alarm clock, most days I wake up automatically. My body was used to a certain rhythm and had always been this way. Plus, I have a terrific aversion to lateness. Probably more of a guilty mind issue, but nonetheless, being late made me angry. If I could maintain that anger at myself, there would be no problem, but I am prone to take it out on the next poor soul in my path. I quickly replaced the items in their correct homes and returned to the kitchen to make breakfast. Strangely, Junior was sitting at the kitchenette still in his pajamas. I thought he might be sick and started to feel his forehead. He brushed my hand aside and told me that he was just “taking ten.” I asked him what that meant. He went on  to tell me that he was just taking a ten minute break before he dressed.

I glanced over at him while pulling out the eggs and bacon. He seemed to be just sitting there very calmly. I made some juice and checked the flame under the percolator. I popped four pieces of bread into the toaster and pulled out the butter and jam. Junior was still sitting. Remarkable. I was running around earlier like a chicken without a head and he was just sitting. I felt a little like I lived on a different planet. I asked him what his plans were for the day and he told me that Jack Frost was going to join him as they trooped through the nearby woods down to the creek. Visions of laundry entered my head. Every few weeks, the boys went to the woods and did boy stuff. I never participated in that kind of thing growing up but they always came home with jars of silt and minnows, new rocks and small trinkets. I offered to pack some lunch and Junior thanked me as he got up to presumably go to his bedroom and dress.

A few minutes later, Daisy came into the kitchenette, dressed but looking sleepy. She slid into a chair and asked for some juice. I kissed the top of her head and filled her glass. Daisy was a little slower at waking up but sunny in disposition after breakfast. I think she has too many loved stuffed animals in her bed with her and they keep her up. Apparently, some of them talk to her at night. Nothing scary, just annoying. I had Steve’s breakfast all ready when he came into the kitchen and he sat down and opened the newspaper after kissing my cheek. Steve is not a big talker in the morning, but after reviewing the front couple of pages, he folded the paper and started eating. I gave Daisy her plate and she slowly spread jam on her toast. Junior came into breakfast and I placed his plate in front of him. I made sure he had plenty of food so he wouldn’t get hungry on his hike. Steve asked the kids some questions about their plans for the day and how they were doing on their summer reading while I packed Junior some lunch. I placed extra crackers in the brown bag in case he took a break and needed a snack.

I have noticed one thing about the breakfast habits of my family. While they eat, they start to pick up the pace and move faster. Steve downed his last long drink of coffee after finishing his food, Daisy pushed the bacon pieces that she didn’t want to eat to one side of her plate and Junior took less breaks between bites. They all finished about the same time as if in sync with each other. I quickly snuck a note in Steve’s briefcase before handing it to him while he kissed the children good-bye for the day. Junior took his lunch bag and a canvas bag of secret supplies to meet Jack and Daisy suddenly remembered that she had promised Marie-Claire that they would play puppets this morning. Daisy apologized for leaving me all alone and gave me a little kiss on the cheek before running out the back door. There really were no apologies needed. I had decided that I was going to take Junior’s lead and “take ten” this morning and sit at the kitchenette with another cup of coffee. There was plenty of time to get everything done later.

Enjoy the Unexpected

With summer in full swing, the children were having a great time. The ladies in my neighborhood who sat together at the club were busy working on their tans, the children were intent on splashing us during adult swims and Junior took his first dive off the diving board. My heart caught in my throat but he did a great job and mastered whatever fear he may have had. I treated him by allowing him to order lunch for himself and lunch for a friend at the snack bar. Daisy sat on the side of the pool with her feet in the water clapping every time he dove off. He nearly knocked Steve over when he came home from work in his excitement to let him know about the big accomplishment.

Steve brought up the possibility of us going to spend time with his parents during the summer and I tried valiantly to change the subject. Visiting his mother wasn’t fun under normal circumstances and a long visit might really try my patience. I told him that I would consider it but I really wanted to know what prompted the idea. We had never gone for any long visits to his family previously. Daisy asked me if we were going on a trip as I helped her get ready to read at bedtime. I was torn between being truthful and telling her the chances were slim and letting her have some hope about at least having a trip to think about. I asked her what her preference would be and she answered diplomatically that she would go if I wanted her to. I sighed. I really didn’t want Daisy to start being a people pleaser so early in life. We get caught up in doing the right thing for the wrong reasons in an effort to spare someone else’s feelings or go along with the crowd. I know there have been times when I chose not to follow my own desires and regretted it. If I could discourage that trait in Daisy, she would be able to choose her own path more easily.

Junior was still excited about his feat at the club. I asked him why he chose today and he let me know that some other boys at the club were talking about diving and he wanted to be the first. That was a brave statement. I had never considered whether my children were brave or not before. Up to this point, I was more focused on the obedient side of them. Raising children to be reliable adults is a process and I needed to think of ways to encourage more good traits in them.

Before we turned in, I asked Steve about his idea of visiting his parents. Steve admitted that it wasn’t the first thing he had planned this summer, but they were getting older and he thought that perhaps he should reach out to them more often to see if they now needed him. Very altruistic. Steve’s dad was still working and they didn’t have any big health issues but I liked that he was thinking ahead about what the future would hold for them. I really wasn’t certain that his mother would like us to visit. She tends to be more formal than us and my lifestyle did not include dressing for dinner every evening. After we discussed it for awhile, Steve decided that he would start by calling more often to check on them. That sounded like a good start.

At breakfast, Junior wanted to get going because he was working with Zettie Louise today. Daisy was going to join me for grocery shopping and Steve was off to work. Before he left for his job, Junior asked Steve about whether we would be going to take a trip. Junior said that he wanted to let Zettie Louise know so that she didn’t count on his being available every day. Steve announced that he had actually decided that we were going to take a trip but it wasn’t the one he talked about at dinner. My head snapped around to listen while I placed Steve’s eggs on a plate and when I looked back, one was hanging off the edge of the plate. I righted it and placed it down in front of Steve, gazing down at him and waiting for this big announcement that he had not yet discussed with me. Steve realized that we were all looking at him and waiting for more information. It was at this point that Steve let us know that we were going back to the lake this summer and that Buck thought we should spend three weeks there this year. Buck was going on a trip to visit June’s parents for a month and the lake house would be all ours while they were away. Well, that wasn’t bad news. As he was leaving, Steve asked me if a longer stay at the lake was alright with me this year, and I agreed that it was good news. The only problem I had with it was the surprise element. I really did not like surprises; I am a planner. Steve pecked my cheek goodbye but I refused to smile.

As I thought about my reaction later, I realized how silly I was. It was a great gift to get to spend time at the lake; we all loved our time there together and I knew Steve could use a restful vacation and more time with the kids. I even could spend some time reading and preparing for the fall classes I had chosen. This was unexpected good news and not a burden. When Steve came home, I apologized for the way I acted and told him that I had started planning our vacation. This little episode taught me a new trait that I would try and teach to the children. When an opportunity presents itself, don’t make it into something bad just because it wasn’t your original idea. Stop for a moment and think about the goodness of the unexpected.

 

Parlez-vous College?

Chloe came over for coffee yesterday wanting to know what the summers were like for the children in the neighborhood. They had not yet thought about joining the club and I knew Francis worked a great deal. I thought he might be trying to catch up with life after staying in the army so long after the war was over and most of the men had come home. Francis had stayed overseas and luckily stayed with Chloe until they could both move to the states. The girls had grown to really like each other, so I assured Chloe that Marie Claire was always welcome to join us on the days we went to swim. Chloe could have some alone time that way too. She thanked me and said that she would take me up on the offer.

Chloe still spoke occasionally in snippets of French, which always seemed so chic. None of us spoke anything but English, which made us seem a little less sophisticated. Chloe was concerned that Marie Claire was starting to lose her native language because they spoke mostly English at home now. Even in school, Marie Claire was using English all the time. There were a few weeks when she first went to school where she pretended not to understand the teachers until Chloe set the teacher straight at the first parent meeting. Most likely, Marie Claire just wanted some extra attention, so the teacher wisely let her teach the class some new French words each week. I thought it was a brilliant idea and the children started to have a secret language that the parents couldn’t understand.

I was still trying to decide what to do about school in the fall for myself. One class was manageable but a full class schedule would never work for me at this point. I was considering two classes, possibly meeting back to back, to best utilize my time. The classes would depend on what I wanted to major in and that was the bigger problem. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. There was never enough time before the war to think about it and after the war, the children came and I thought I would be satisfied with staying home with them every day. But now that they are in school, they really need me differently. My routine was pretty set and I worked as efficiently as possible to keep up the house, make the meals, run the errands, and care for everyone. Trouble is, like me, everyone was getting good at caring for themselves as they got older. I suppose I could always be a teacher; I liked learning. But I liked writing too. The choice was difficult. I called Lucy and asked if she had any suggestions. Luckily, she knew exactly what I should do. At the college, there was a whole office of people who helped with this type of thing, so I phoned and made an appointment to talk to a career counselor.

I hadn’t thought that what I was doing was creating a career. Nobody ever talked to me using such serious terms about work. Worse than that, I really hadn’t thought of myself as having a real career. There was no use in beating myself about it now, for sure, but once I figured out what I was going to be, I was going to start talking to the children, both of them, about what they were going to be when they grew up. And about college too. If Marie Claire’s teacher had the good sense to see how to use her special knowledge at her tender age, there was hope that the girls we were raising were going to take over the world.

To Choose or Not to Choose

I realized a long time ago that if someone made a pleasant remark about something of mine, there was a hidden meaning. Determining the meaning was the next step in knowing how to react. Sometimes, salespeople will falsely flatter you to move you closer to a sale. When my ego needs boosting, it is fun to go shopping, try on something and then ask the salespeople what they think. Complete strangers often find something nice to say in these situations and the comments are universally good.

Shopping with a true girlfriend will get you a little closer to the truth, especially if they have the good sense to take you by the hand and steer you toward a different rack, another department or lunch. I accused Mags of using a code when we shopped together. Whenever I started sorting through clothing that was not in my best interest to wear, she often became light-headed and needed a soft drink and a chance to sit down and chat. It took me a while to make the connection, but I gradually followed her lead better and there were less frequent interruptions in shopping.

I find the real truth comes from grocery store cashiers and other shoppers. While perusing which chicken to purchase at Martel’s, another shopper started a conversation with me about roasters. We shared some thoughts on how versatile they were and ideas on whether a lemon inside of the cavity really added any flavor. I personally add a cut up onion. As I turned back to my shopping cart, the shopper must have noticed my handbag. She animatedly let me know how pretty it was and leaned in closer to ask me where I bought it. Her interest was genuine and I could see in her eyes that she earnestly liked it. I pondered for a split second whether to tell her but realized that information was not top secret and told her the name of the shop. She told me that she shopped there often and had not seen it but would definitely check back to see if they had any more like it. It was unlikely we would ever be in the same place at the same time with matching handbags. And it is a really cute bag.

In the checkout line, I exchanged pleasantries with the cashier and after she had rung in my purchases, I reached into my handbag to get some cash. The cashier leaned over a little and looked at my handbag.  She smiled and made a remark on how adorable it was.  This bag must have special powers to make people happy. I thanked her for the comment and told her right away where I bought it. She hadn’t even asked, but there was no need to hide the knowledge in case she shopped there too.

That afternoon, I was holding dresses in front of myself as I checked my full-length mirror. I could not decide between two of them as Junior came in to ask me a question. He must have been standing and watching me before I noticed his presence. After he cleared his throat, I turned to ask him what he thought. Junior told me to do what he does when he has important decisions to make. I put down the dresses and turned my attention toward him. My son had a method to make decisions. Stevie fished into his pocket and pulled out a bottle cap, a small rock, an army soldier and a small coin. He asked me to choose heads or tails and I chose heads. He looked at the dresses and tossed the coin onto his other hand, covering it for the big reveal. I looked at his hand as he showed me the coin and he said to choose the red dress. I picked up the dress and held it up for his approval. He smiled and told me that I looked pretty. There cannot be higher praise. I hung up the dresses and invited Junior to the kitchen for a special treat as a thank you.

Decisions can be made in many ways. and random choices work out most of the time. What Junior reminded me was not to take myself too seriously. That will probably leave me more time for bigger decisions. What a bright kid; he didn’t have to give his own opinion of the dress. I wonder if that is why Steve always seems to get busy when I ask him to help me choose. Maybe Steve needs a lucky coin.