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The More You Know

One of the upsides of leaving Manhattan for a small Southern city, I always said, was that I didn’t think I had the constitution for the school situation in New York. When I was pregnant with Alden I would talk to other pregnant women who were getting their zygotes onto all the “right” waiting lists. If that was isolated to all those crazy rich people you read about, with their 30K-a-year preschools it would have been easy to ignore. No pressure to fight for a place we could never, ever dream of affording. But lots of regular, conscientious parents — people living in our same building — were doing it. Everyone was ramped up about districting, charters, bi-lingual magnets. It all sounded impossibly complicated and stressful. I never minded the subway (loved it, actually). I was happy to buy only as many groceries as I could carry back to our apartment. 800 square feet felt plenty big enough. Lots of things people hate about New York, I loved. (I did not love how we bled money constantly.) This, though, I knew was going to push all the wrong buttons for me. It’s not why we moved, but I was so relieved that I escaped.

Five years later, we have just emerged from a crushingly stressful re-evaluation of our school situation. It was one of those situations where we (me, Damon, my Mom) couldn’t seem to talk about anything else. There was insomnia. There were tears, including a flash flood in the middle of a meeting with a prospective school director and one of her teachers. That was when they told me they felt Alden (who is already on the older side for his grade) should be held back and repeat kindergarten. Which would mean he would graduate at 19 and a half. 

He is not going to repeat kindergarten, although I acknowledge and respect their informed opinion on the matter. This all started as we came, painfully, to the conclusion that we have two non-Montessori kids in a Montessori school. I went to a very similar kind of school when I was little, and I remember so clearly being so happy there. I felt so sure that was the most perfect learning environment. But what I’ve slowly come to realize it that it was the perfect learning environment for me. Alden, it seems, has taken advantage of the great freedom to spend a lot of time daydreaming. He likes to gaze out the window. He’s also a little bored, having been in the same classroom for probably at least one year too many. So he doesn’t know what most kids know as they wrap up their kindergarten year. I think the intense academic focus of early grades is ridiculous, for sure. I don’t even care, objectively, that Alden is behind. But eventually he would have to leave the Montessori bubble (school only goes through 5th) and the risk just felt too real that he would graduate 5th grade on a 3rd grade level. And then where would we be? So we did a little testing to see if there’s an issue. So far, it seems not. His intelligence is fine. There are no clear learning disabilities (although I allow that something like dyslexia could still reveal itself). He just needs someone to sit his butt down and teach him. He actually, it seems, enjoys that. 

The good news is that we found a lovely school to work with us. We met with the lower school director and laid out the whole situation for her. They invited Alden to spend the day in the classroom with them. After that said the teachers felt it was just a matter of exposure, and they’re happy to take him on for first grade next year. Our part of the agreement is that we will have Alden tutored over the summer so that he isn’t facing a such big gap in August. We’ll probably be able to hire his first-grade teacher to do that, which seems pretty perfect. Critically, Alden really loved his visit day at his new school. It’s an Episcopal school and every day starts with a 15-minute service. I sat in with him on his visit day and he leaned over and whispered, “I want to go to school here.” Which blew me away because we are not so much with the church. So this may be something entirely new for us. He also stage whispered to me, “Hey, what’s Lent?” To which I said, “Uh… It’s a thing where.. There was this time when…” It wasn’t pretty.

Elliot. Well, that’s a whole different situation. One of the first shakeups in this whole school nonsense was when we took Elliot to a prospective school and were gently asked, “You do know he’s not old enough to go to kindergarten next year, right?” No. We definitely did not know that. We 100% thought he was going to kindergarten. But it seems that in 2013 the state moved the cut off back one month, and Elliot was a rising kindergartener no more. We had no idea. Which means if he stayed in Montessori he would, like Alden, be in the same classroom for what would likely be too many years. That’s so great for so many kids. Not mine, though. Elliot is already restless with the pastoral, peaceful, quiet nature of his wonderful Montessori classroom. One of the most consistent notes we’ve gotten about him this year is that he’s disruptive. He just cannot seem to keep still. On the other hand, he’s pacing well ahead for his age. He loves to learn and will extract knowledge from almost any situation. That school that wanted to hold Alden back? It looks like a summer camp. The kids are outdoors a minimum of an hour a day. They eat outside. They troop all over the campus. They wear pedometers to show their commitment to movement. They use physical discipline — misbehaving means laps, not timeouts. They are also driven and fast-moving academically. And they invited Elliot to join their pre-kindergarten program just for kids who don’t make that school cut off but are ready for a little more than another year of preschool. 

So now we have something I never even contemplated. The boys are going to different schools next year. I hate that. But which one should I ask to sacrifice? I can’t. We will learn a lot this year and maybe decide to move one guy next year. Or maybe not. I never would have guessed we’d wind up in this place. And yet, now it feels right. Alden will spend time every day in the chapel; Elliot will spend time every day in the woods. 

Lest I sound too proud of Elliot’s “advanced” academics, I should say that today at the zoo we saw this guy and Elliot said, “Hey, can we pet your doggies?”



I am never, never going to go down the navel-gazing road of “Why am I blogging?” on this blog. (Probably. Maybe.) Recently, though, I discovered that what this is doing for me in the present (letting me write, making a record for the boys) isn’t all. I’ve discovered the charming Timehop app, which sends along an update daily to show you what you posted on social media one, two, three years ago (or however long you’ve been sharing) that day.


I love it completely, and I’m so grateful to my past self for the blog posts I wrote. In the past few weeks I’ve gotten to re-live birthday parties, sweet little moments I would have forgotten and, most powerfully, the days where we got one “all clear” after another in regards to Alden’s mystery illness. I felt the relief and joy all over again.

And now, in a year, I will get a reminder of this post (provided I remember to link to it on Facebook). So, a note to my future self:

Hi! You’re writing this blog post while on a business trip. You’ve probably taken quite a few more since then. I hope you’re still remembering that you can miss the boys and still appreciate that you can see the ocean from your hotel room. Also, remember how you agonized over where they were going to go to school? I’ll bet you’re nodding now and smiling, because it all worked out just fine. Also, please tell me you finally got around to watching Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Even just one of them.




Happy Holidays

This is what good fortune looks like.


Happy holidays. We had them. I am grateful.



Now You See Him

I lost Elliot for 20 minutes at a theme park a few weeks ago. (20 minutes, a whole sitcom, minus commercials.)

It felt unreal. I have no idea, and no one else has any idea, where my barely-4-year-old is. He’s just loose in the world. Maybe striking out West? Getting married? Who can say? Because I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing.

What happened was… We took the boys to my hometown theme park, King’s Island. Damon and cousin Colleen took off to hit those rides that make me anxious just to watch. I took off with the boys for Snoopy Land, which is more their speed and mine. I hit a frustration wall with their relative paces —  I have one lagger (Alden moves at about 1 agonizing mph) and one dasher (Elliot’s stuck in fifth gear. Is fifth a gear?) and finally decided to put them both under stroller arrest. I parked them in a cafe and, as I shifted purses and jackets off the stroller, Elliot turned and walked out. At least I assume that’s what happened. I looked up and he was gone.

My personal phases of a lost preschooler:

1. Aggravation. This is the first two or three minutes, where I’m still assuming that Elliot is under a table, behind a plant or otherwise within reach and I will find him momentarily. Along with being a runner, he is a hider, so this isn’t unfamiliar territory.

2. Dawning Anxiety. He really doesn’t seem to be in the cafe. This is when I parked Alden with my mom and another cousin, and started jogging up and down the walkways near the cafe. Surely. SURELY he is nearby. Nope.

3. Houston, we have a problem. This is when I acknowledge to myself that he is lost. I call Damon and get voice mail. He’s probably strapped into some crazy ride and likely can’t hear his phone ringing. I leave him a 10-second rundown and tell myself that by the time he calls back I will be able to answer with, “I’ve got him.” I start to increase the range of my search while trying to make sure I’m not missing a possibility right under my nose. It’s not like the pathways are linear, so I’m frustratingly aware that at any moment he could be within sight — behind me.

4. Time to Get Serious. Roughly 10 minutes have gone by. This was the part where I have to make the decision to stop looking.  I need to go get help. I know that he could be moving farther away or getting into more trouble with each minute that passes. One person searching for him is not enough. I go find a park employee and ask where the lost children office is. What I’m doing now is a little faster than a jog as I head over to file a report. When I start laying out the story I’m waiting for the woman behind the desk to tell me that this happens all the time. She doesn’t. She’s a nice woman who seems to be filling in. She hunts and pecks on the keyboard and has to check several times to make sure she’s “doing this right.” I do not grab her by the lapels and shake her.

A note on kidnappers: Of the various concerns pinging on my radar, this one hardly registered. Statistically, it’s just so unlikely. Even at my most concerned, I was well aware that Elli was in more danger on the highway to the theme park than he was at risk of some nut case grabbing him. What I was getting more concerned about by the minutes is that he would find his way into a dangerous area and be exposed to something like a ride mechanism or power sources. I’d already hauled his heinie out once as he tried to shimmy under a fence that very day. I was also mentally reviewing all the parts of the park I’d seen for fountains, lakes and ponds. I also hoped that he wasn’t too scared, wherever he was. But I also kind of hoped he was very scared, scared enough to remember next time he thought about heading out.

5. This Can’t Be Happening Land. Damon calls as I’m finishing giving the woman a description of Elliot. I pick up, aware that she’s not going to actually hit “enter” on this sucker until I answer all her questions. It goes like this:

Damon: Hey! I just rode the…

Jillian: Stop. Elliot is missing. I need your help. Come back.

Damon: What?? I can’t hear you! Did you say something about Elliot?

Jillian: He’s missing. Come back.

Damon: Who? What? There are a ton of people around me, I can’t…

Jillian: I can’t talk right now. Call my mom. </phone call>

I wrap up with the woman and she says, “Okay, the security guys are on their way. You can wait right here for them and…” I’m getting into the groove of interrupting people. I say, “You have my cell number. I’m going to look some more. Your security guys can call me when they get here.” We’re at about 15 minutes.

6. The Most Likely Thing Happens. I start to circle around the park again, each loop a little bigger than the last. I push back firmly on terribly thoughts like, “What if you have to leave here tonight without him?” And then. There he is. Walking down a pathway with a park worker carrying a broom and dustpan. I can see that they’re chatting. Elliot looks totally unconcerned. As I pull up next to them, Elliot looks over and says, “Mommy, I was looking all over for you.” He’s peevish. The guy (I’m sorry I didn’t get your name, nice guy!) tells me he saw Elli loitering outside a pretzel stand (which I’d checked, because he HAD been asking for a pretzel) and was bringing him over to the lost kid office.

7 Denouement. I called around that all is well. We all took several deep breaths. The lady called my to tell me the security guys had arrived and I was able to answer, “I’ve got him.” We bought a round of ice cream cones. Then we went back to riding rides, because that seemed like a better choice than letting this ruin our day.

What I learned from this: Whenever I take Elliot out in a crowd I write my cell number on his arm with a Sharpie. Since it’s winter, I also write “Call my mom” on the back of his hand with an arrow pointing under his sleeve. It is my fervent hope that by spring he will be slightly less inclined towards these shenanigans.

What Elliot learned from this: Not one damn thing. He wasn’t upset and I have no doubt he will hare off again at the first opportunity.



Pumpkin Spice

We had a grand day with friends yesterday at a local pumpkin patch and corn maze.


Alden: thoughtful, quiet, moving on his own time.


Elliot: bold, opinionated, always ready to go


C, Alden and all kids: up for a kettle korn brunch


Four and Six

Years ago I wrote a post called Goodbye to the Baby. I remembered that easily because I felt it so deeply. And now, doesn’t 4 & 6 sound so, so much older than 3 & 5? Just a month ago I was still in that place where my sons’ ages made people’s eyes widen a little. Now, eh. No big deal.

The boys are, as I type, getting haircuts. Damon just texted me this before and after:


Elliot apparently aged several years right there in the chair, and has possibly joined a gang. I am a battle picker. That means the boys wear their hair how they like it and pick their own clothes when they care to. Which is why Elliot went to school today in white bucks. I’m not all laissez faire though. So far they don’t know that sweat pants exist.

This morning Damon gently suggested that we probably don’t have a need for our pack and play or exersaucer anymore. His timing was excellent. Normally I would shout down such nonsense, but I just put a big down payment on a vacation for next year and I suppose I could squeeze a few dollars out of some of that gear. I guess my nostalgia has a price tag.

When I was a little girl my parents sold our dining room table. I laid on top of the table and cried for the poor thing, part of our family that we were coldly discarding. I should probably make sure that I am not home when the buyer comes for the stroller. I drew the line at the tricycles. I will ride them myself if I have to prove their usefulness.

I loved the baby days. Loved, loved them. I find crazy toddlers delightful. At least my own. That’s all over now. And that makes me really sad. What saves me is that the boys now, as they are, continue to be endlessly interesting to me. It’s harder now to know what they need, but I’m fully engaged in trying to figure that out. They are still funny and charming with great big hearts. And so different, which is also a gift.

They are such a gift. I’m just overwhelmingly aware of my good fortune. That they are who they are. That they came into my life when they did. That Damon is their Dad. That my mom is right down the road and a major part of their days. That so many people surround them with love, and all the different ways that can look. I miss the babies, but I have more than enough.


(Alden is waiting for his invitation to join Mumford and Sons.)

Life List: Make Mustard

Trying something hard and failing, I am well used to that. Trying something easy and failing… Apparently that will put me off this little life list program for a long time. I made mustard, if you want to be generous and call it that, last year. I spent some time searching through recipes online and found one that felt interesting but do-able. I didn’t keep the link, but what I do recall is that it required an absolute ton of mustard powder. So there’s your first warning. There wasn’t a second warning. I (think) I followed the directions to the letter, and wound up with a paste so searing that I think it singed away my nose hairs from the inside. And I did let it rest first. Heavens knows what it was like on the first few days. Just to smell it made my eyes water. So my process was: research –> shop –> make –> wait –> garbage.

This came not too far on the heels of the fish tank failure, which was much greater in that it was very expensive and included a fatality. What I learned from that is that my life list goals a better to not carry an ongoing obligation. I’m pretty much filled up on ongoing obligations right now.

So. To return. Right back to the mustard. And this time… easy peasy. I did exactly the same kind of random poking around the internet and found these mustard recipes. This time I felt much more free to tinker around a bit. I used yellow mustard seeds in hopes of a less firey result. I used beer as my liquid, since it gave me an excuse to go hand Damon (who was doing manly yard work) a nearly full cold bottle, and I randomly poured in honey a few days later because I thought that would be tasty. And it is, the whole lot. I soaked the seeds as instructed. Then I went out of town and forgot the whole thing in the refrigerator for another week. Then I threw it all in the blender. The next day I added the honey. And now we have homemade mustard. I can’t promise I’ll keep it up, but it’s at least a little bit possible that I will make another batch when we finish this one. Tinkering around with the recipe would be fun.

Now I am back on the horse, so perhaps I’ll find it in me to tackle something else on the list before the year is out.