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Because I have questions. So many questions. They are eating away at the inside of my brain.

For example:

  1. Why is my 9th grader going to learn Tchouckball this year? Have you ever heard of Tchoukball? Is it fun?
  2. How is it possible that a person who was incarcerated for 30 years has been sober for only the past 14 years. How do you get access to alcohol or drugs when you’re in prison?
  3. Why does my 3rd grader weave back and forth when walking down a sidewalk with us? Why does he pace in circles sometimes?
  4. Who invented those indentations on the side of highways and how did they make them and who decides which roads have them and which ones don’t?
  5. How does someone decide the best way to honor their deceased loved one is by naming an overpass or bridge after them?
  6. Why do some people consistently reply all when they only need to reply to the sender of the email?
  7. If companies can make a product with just five ingredients, or with all natural ingredients, why don’t they just change their recipe instead of offering one version with chemicals or additives and another version that’s healthier? Why wouldn’t you just sell the healthier one instead so it’s easier for everyone to buy?
  8. Why can’t all the stores put all your coupons electronically on your shopper card?
  9. Why would anyone think that being mean to someone will change their behavior?
  10. How much of one’s day must be spent resetting passwords? Why?

I am seeking actual answers to these questions. Please reply.

When you’re a writer who earns a living telling other people’s stories, it can be challenging to find time to write your own. And when there is a lot happening that you are compelled to write, and you don’t sit down to do it, a dangerous bottleneck of thoughts builds up in your brain, which becomes so crowded that it’s hard for any single idea to push through the crowd. Then when one persistent little guy makes it out (like that lucky sperm in those books about sex ed you read as a kid!), you start to write that paragraph and approximately 30 seconds later you wonder if it’s the most important one to write because all those others are trying to muscle their way through as well. And you question what important even means, and who you are writing for, and what everything means, and then you get distracted by Facebook and text messages and checking your credit score and organizing your art supplies and thinking about ordering more art supplies even though you’re running out of room to store the ones you already have. And so on.


Adulting is freaking exhausting. And adulting combined with parenting–especially when parenting during, say, the first week back to school after an 18-month pandemic-induced hiatus–is just too much. This week involved calling several doctors and driving to myself and the kids to five health and medical appointments (everything’s fine, just taking care of things that had been pushed off during the summer) and picking up prescriptions. And making lunches for school which I haven’t had to do since 2019. And filling out a million forms. You get the idea. And none of these things is too much by itself, but on top of the actual work I do for my job, and trying to communicate with my friends and family–all of whom are having their own intense adulting weeks–is a lot. I was talking with someone today who said that the past 18 months was like running a marathon, but instead of having time now to recover, we have another whole marathon ahead of us. News flash! The pandemic isn’t over yet! The world is still on fire! She said that we should just walk this marathon. Since sitting it out is not an option.

In the end, his love of animals won out over his distaste for getting dirty. Zeke’s sixth camp of the summer was Native Animal Explorers, run by an organization called Fish and Explore. He spent every day wading knee-deep into creeks and streams and marshes, climbing over rocks, and making himself at home in the woods. He found hellgrammites and velvet mites (both of which I had to look up) and crayfish and tiny toads. He said he spent a whole day with another camper who had sharp eyes—she would spot the toads and he would catch them. He said he has quick hands. He held (non-venomous) snakes that the counselors found. He let little caterpillars crawl around on his hands. One caterpillar reportedly pooped on Zeke three times. He and his fellow campers named some of the crayfish—Big Daddy, Big Boy, Tiny Tim, Tiny Guy—you sense a theme? Zeke reported that getting pinched by a crayfish did not really hurt. The day they explored the Billy Goat Trail he came home with scrapes all over his legs. He did not complain. And this is a boy who is sensitive to pain and most minor injuries. 

He did complain, however, that the days were tiring—and they were long and included a lot of driving to the various parks. And that changing clothes in the camp van was annoying, which I’m sure it was. But he didn’t seem to mind getting wet and dirty and he definitely loved finding and observing and holding the creatures. He smuggled a hellgrammite home in his water bottle on the last day of camp. We observed it in a Tupperware container filled with water and then we convinced Zeke to let the little guy be free. 

This weekend we are in West Virginia, hiking to waterfalls and mountain lookouts, and exploring little towns. Zeke is reminding us that if we see any animals, he can identify them for us and probably catch them for closer observation. He wants to go off trail, which we’ve reminded him is not safe when you’re 3,000 feet up. He is ready to wade in the water, although so far we haven’t had a chance. He did go outside and dance in the rain on the porch of our Airbnb, though, which is pretty close. 

I insisted we register him for three active camps if he was going to do a week of Minecraft camp. He readily agreed—and so he did fencing and archery, a theater camp that involved much more choreography than he was prepared for, and Native Animal Explorers. He did like fencing and archery, and when we watched the Olympics, he taught us quite a bit about the kinds of bows and arrows and fencing weapons that the athletes were using. And he came home with a multitude of bruises on his legs from fencing but didn’t complain then either. The theater camp was a little iffier. He said he didn’t like the theme—Broadway Disney—because too many of the girls in the camp were obsessed with Disney princesses. Although Zeke likes to sing and dance at home—or truthfully dance anywhere—he didn’t care for the choreography or the choice of songs, even though he likes Disney movies as much as the next kid. 

He’s been saying he wants to do more archery and fencing, so I consider that a success. And of course he loved the Minecraft camp. Apparently, he actually learned some coding, so that’s a bonus. The most disappointing camps were the ones that did not at all match what was advertised. One was Safari Robotics, run by SciGenius. The campers were supposed to learn about safari animals and observe how they moved, and then create robots to imitate the animals’ movement. Instead, what they did was dig through bins of Legos to find parts to create Lego robotics projects they followed the instructions for. Zeke has nothing against Legos or Lego robotics, but he’s done those camps before, and that was not at all what he signed up for. Surprisingly, the best thing about that camp was that during breaks, they played soccer. As a result, Zeke said he wanted to join a soccer team this fall. I have been (gently) asked him since kindergarten if he wanted to play soccer on a team and he has always politely declined. But now he has a jersey hanging on the back of his door and we are eagerly awaiting an email from his coach letting us know when and where to practice. 

The other disappointment was Steve & Kate’s Camp, which had been fabulous years ago when Zoe attended. The whole thing with Steve & Kate’s is that kids get to choose what they want to do—among a wide variety of interesting activities including bread baking, sewing, karaoke, board games, and more. We understood that because of COVID they were forced to change the model somewhat, putting the kids into cohorts instead of letting them roam free. But they also seemed to limit what the kids could do. Zeke spent so much of the day playing on an iPad that he got bored, which I did not think was possible when Zeke has a screen in front of him. One other option was playing in the gym—with a ball—by yourself. They weren’t allowed to throw the balls to anyone else. And Zeke is tall but not quite tall enough to be able to shoot baskets at standard height net. So what are kids supposed to do with a ball in a gym by themselves for hours? The only unusual diversion was inflatable axe throwing at an inflatable target. Bread making, sewing, maker space, and other promised activities were never offered. Zeke was signed up for five days at Steve & Kate’s, but since you pay by the day and they give you refunds at the end of summer for days you didn’t use, we pulled him out for the last two days. 

I have already started a summer 2022 spreadsheet because that’s who I am, and I don’t want to forget what we learned after this summer. And I would like to think that by next summer COVID won’t actually be a terrifying and constantly looming threat, but I am not confident about that. But meanwhile, I am thankful that Zeke had the opportunity to be out in the world this summer, trying some new things, making new friends, and learning new skills. If we’re lucky, all that will continue when school starts in a couple weeks. Fingers crossed. 

My brain is doing that thing again. Thoughts, ideas, worries, questions careening around and crashing into each other, leaving shattered fragments that no one is coming to sweep up. Neurons are firing and everything is aflame.

Here are some of the things I’m thinking about.

  1. Why do we think everything at Target will be cheap but we end up always spending so much money there?
  2. Why did we think COVID would be over by now and unsurprisingly it’s getting worse? I am depressed by the thought that this will be the third consecutive year that COVID impacts our kids’ school years (not to mention everything else, but I am particularly concerned about my kids. And everyone’s kids.
  3. Will we ever be able to stop dealing with COVID?
  4. Do other people have to reschedule everything as often as I do?
  5. I am pleased with myself that I convinced my teenager to do something she didn’t want to do–wear a baseball hat–while learning to row, to keep the sun out of her eyes.
  6. I am proud of her for spending 10 hours this week on the Anacostia learning to row. The sport is fascinating to me, and I love the idea that she knows how to carry a boat into the water, and row down a river, and it’s beautiful to watch. I am hoping she will join the high school crew team this year.
  7. Zoe and her friend are in our kitchen right now doing some activity that they have not revealed. They said it’s a science experiment. Maybe they’re making a cake?
  8. Part of me wonders if I’ve spent so much time away from church during the pandemic that I won’t go back.
  9. I have used various products and still cannot seem to get our towels to smell good. What’s the secret?
  10. I worry that as a straight, cis person, there are just too many things I will never understand.
  11. I am proud of myself that I haven’t had a Coke or Dr. Pepper in several years. I was addicted to caffeinated soda for most of my life. I wish I had quit sooner.
  12. There are only 38 days left till the first day of school! We need supply lists! We need schedules! We need orientation! Zoe’s never walked around in her new high school! Zeke needs an amazing teacher and some awesome friends! So many expectations and unknowns.
  13. I am amazed at all the things my children know.
  14. I am surprised by how much I enjoy reading Rick Riordan’s books with Zeke.
  15. Yesterday at the library I ran into a friend who was there with a large group of children who were looking for books. My friend’s colleague said she needed extra hands to help the kids find books they wanted. So Zeke and I helped them look up titles and authors on the computer, find them on the shelves, and browse through the shelves for books we thought they would like. Both Zeke and I really enjoyed it. I told the person who was wrangling the kids to let me know next time they were going to the library so we could meet them again.
  16. Zeke is going to play soccer this fall and I am so excited for him, and truthfully, looking forward to being a soccer mom again (in addition to being a mom who plays soccer). I really hope he has a fabulous coach and great teammates and makes friends.
  17. I loved the new Black Widow movie and I am thinking about getting some new piercings in my ear in the style of Natasha and Yelena. I’m probably never going to get a tattoo, so why not have a little more bling in my ears?
  18. Zoe is leaving on Sunday for sleep away camp for two weeks. It’s a long time away from us after a year and a half of always being with us, except for an occasional sleepover with family. She asked me to write her notes in advance for her to open every day while she’s there, in addition to the email and mail I will send her while she’s gone. People say it’s better for campers to immerse themselves in camp life instead of thinking too much about home, but Zoe seems to need the connection. This will be her sixth year, so I guess she knows what she needs.
  19. This could be a whole different post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what a particular experience it is to go clothes shopping with a teenager who 1) has a much different body type and confidence in her body than I did when I was a teenager and 2) has a much more sophisticated sense of style than I did when I was a teenager.
  20. I am so angry and tired of the racism and sexism and ableism that continue to dominate the narrative in sports, especially visible now as the Olympics are starting. Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts because men want to see them in bikinis, or they want to wear shorter shorts that are easier to run in but they are deemed too short for running. They can’t wear swim caps that protect natural Black hair. They can’t compete because they are trans or they smoked pot months ago in a place where it was legal. Or they are Paralympians who are deaf and blind and have to quit the team because they’re not allowed to bring a personal support person to Tokyo to help them navigate the city. I feel like there are just dark, smoky back rooms full of crotchety old, straight, cis, white men who are doing their damnedest to make life as hard as possible for women, women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, and women with disabilities.

There’s more that I’m thinking about, but I need to get dinner started. That’s another thing to think about.

What I’ve just finished doing at 3am: ordering more masks for my son. Fortunately, there are lots of masks on sale now. Perhaps some companies are slowing down their production or getting rid of their stock? I feel certain that Zeke will have to start third grade wearing a mask every day at school. I had been hoping and praying and wishing hard that he would be vaccinated by September, but from what I’ve been reading, that’s not going to happen.

This morning I learned that a friend of mine–not only vaccinated, but hyper aware of vaccination and COVID protocols as a volunteer for the county health departments vaccination clinics–got COVID anyway. Apparently from his son, who is not yet 12 and thus ineligible for the shot. And he thinks his son contracted the virus during an outdoor fishing camp. This news scares the crap out of me. I had heard about vaccinated people getting infected and I know that the vaccination makes it less likely that their case would be severe or fatal, but I don’t know who those other people were or how carefully or carelessly they behaved. But I do know my friend, who is a science teacher, takes the virus seriously. And I know we have all heard for a while now that it’s ok to be outside without a mask. Until, of course, it’s not.

We have a big basket of masks on the table beside our front door. And a bucket on the floor where we deposit the masks we’ve worn so they can be washed. But a lot has happened since the early days of the pandemic when masks were in short supply and we wore whatever we could get our hands on. So probably 75% of our masks are ones that we don’t wear. They don’t fit right, they’re made of uncomfortable material, they’re too hot, etc. Early in the mask wearing days we did what we had to do, but when you realize you’ll have to keep the mask on for hours at a time, you want one that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Beyond the immediate issue of making sure all of us have the masks we need to be safe, I am starting to wonder when we’ll be able to trust the CDC, the health departments, or whatever other medical authorities are telling us what to do. I believe in science and I absolutely know all these people know more than I do about COVID. But I also know there are politics involved and pressure from the public and doubtless mysterious forces unknown to me that influence these decisions. So how do we know the right thing to do? First we didn’t have to wear masks. And then we did. And now we don’t, sometimes, except when we do, but that seems to be highly variable right now. Meanwhile, cases are rising. Sure, they are worse in areas where fewer people are vaccinated. But now that there aren’t many mask rules, anyone can walk around breathing the air that everyone else breathes and there’s no telling whether they could be carrying COVID or not.

I hate wearing masks. Often my glasses get fogged up, no matter how I position or pinch the mask to avoid it. My face gets sweaty. When I try to take off my mask, it gets tangled in my glasses and I take them off by accident. I have been so relieved over the past several weeks to not worry about always wearing a mask, enjoying the freedom of my vaccinated status. But now I’m wearing them again to the store. So is my vaccinated teenager. I really don’t want to start wearing them outside again, but of course I will if I have to. But how will I know? Is there some ultimate COVID sage who I should listen to above all others? Do I rely on my own judgment, despite the fact that I have no expertise whatsoever in epidemiology?

Sure, life is better than it was a year ago. I am thankful that most of our family is vaccinated. But this thing is clearly not over, and I wonder if it ever really will be.

Over the past four weeks I have:

  • Sent my kid to robotics camp after he had been home or with family for 465 days. He did not like the camp, which was not at all what was advertised, but basically a reprise of various Lego camps he outgrew in previous years. They gave him an orange shirt to wear every day. Later, after the shirt had been laundered and returned to his drawer, he said we should “take it out and burn it.” The camp was held entirely outside. The second day it was canceled due to rain. On the fourth day, Zeke came home with a stuffy nose. I took him to get a rapid COVID test at an establishment called Same Day Testing that specializes in rapid COVID tests. That may actually be the only thing they do. Same Day Testing is adjacent to a shopping mall and looks like a day spa. The nurse? technician? person with the swab? had a lovely conversation with Zeke about their shared affinity for sloths. Thankfully, his test was negative.
  • Sent my kid to fencing and archery camp, which he and I both fervently hoped would be more fun than the aforementioned robotics camp. He enjoyed the archery and learned about different kinds of materials used in construction of bows and arrows. He hit an occasional target. In the afternoon, they went inside for fencing, where they used sabers. Apparently they wore helmets and jackets, but nothing protected their legs so by the end of the week his legs were covered in saber bruises. Fencing was hard and tiring, he reported. The highlight of this camp seemed to be the instructor’s personal collection of medieval weapons, which he brought in for show and tell. One of them was a pole covered in spikes. Another one was a hammer that Zeke said was, “designed to crush someone’s skull.” It’s all fun and games until someone gets their skull crushed, right?
  • Sent my kid to Broadway Disney camp. To my surprise, he agreed to this camp when I proposed it several months ago. He likes musicals, he likes Disney, he likes singing, and he likes dancing. However, when I picked him up after camp today, he said they “forced” the kids to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” from Mary Poppins, which he refused to do. I said, “I thought you liked to sing. You sing all the time at home.” He said, “I only like to sing to annoy people.” And they “forced” the kids to learn a dance to a song from The Lion King, which he did not care for because it involved complicated footwork and squatting. He said he likes to tap dance, and sometimes other kinds of dance, but apparently not that dance. He acknowledged that he enjoyed the games they played, and making up a story with one instructor, and the time he was allowed to draw, during which he drew “an angry potato” and alligator Loki.
  • Gone shoe shopping with my kid, who chose slip-on Vans with elevated glittery rainbow soles that are really cool but apparently too heavy to run in. Fortunately we also bought rainbow tie-dye Skechers with a velcro strap because he says he won’t learn to tie his shoes until he’s 10 because he has other, more important things to do. The Skechers came from the “girls” section of the store, because obviously shoes must have genders. The tags I tore off when we got home said “Skechers Girl!” in swirly pastel letters. Because obviously only girls like rainbow colors. Boys can only wear shoes that are blue, green, red, or gray. Zeke said he cannot wear green shoes because, “green is my mortal enemy.” But I guess that does not apply to light green, because the Crocs he chose were light green and lavender. Also they were from the women’s section because the kids section did not have his size. Again, why can’t they just organize the shoe store in size order. Here are very small shoes, which you can see are appropriate for toddlers. Here are slightly larger shoes for young children. And so on, until you get to gigantic shoes for people with generously sized feet. Then people can come in and decide what color and style shoes they want that are in their size, without having to wade through gender and other labels. If Zeke is an 8-year-old boy (which he is) and the shoes that fit him are in the women’s section, the store is really missing out on selling more shoes to more people who don’t think to look across gender and age for the right size.

Heard my kid say numerous times that he doesn’t have any friends. Which is painful to hear, and also true. Not because he isn’t likable or great at making friends, but because I homeschooled him for over a year because of this damn pandemic. His best kid friend his is cousin, with whom he has a close but often fraught relationship. Apparently some of the kids at some of the camps have been nice, but he hasn’t yet met anyone with whom he really clicked. And of course it’s hard to do that in a week when you’re constantly in structured activities. I am sending all of my good intentions and positive energy into the universe that his third grade class will include at least a handful of awesome kids who Zeke will enjoy and who will appreciate him in all his cleverness and creativity and absurdity.

Read and listened to a lot of Norse mythology with Zeke. It turns out we both really like Norse mythology. We highly recommend listening to Neil Gaiman read his own book, aptly titled, Norse Mythology. And last night we finished the first installment of the ridiculously prolific Rick Riordon’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Zeke has also sprinkled some Greek mythology into his reading, including Percy Jackson of course, but his heart is in the nine worlds.


Reading a lot of books and a wide variety of genres and authors was probably the best thing Zeke did during his homeschool tenure. Mostly, he would still rather play video games than read, but he did read and he still likes to read and we enjoy reading together. So that’s something. In addition to the basic requirements, we also focused a lot on animals, art and art history, and the kind of social studies most kids don’t get in school–heavy on the civil rights, Black Lives Matter, women’s history, LGBTQIA+ history, Howard Zinn, etc. Our biggest struggle was writing, but somehow Zeke managed to craft a story that ended up on the Story Pirates podcast, which was exciting for both of us. Homeschooling wasn’t always easy, but I am proud of what we did together, and I’m pretty sure Zeke learned some things.

There are three more weeks of camp after this one. Perhaps it is too much to ask for me to pick him up at the end of the day and hear him say, “that was amazing! I can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” and “I made a friend today!” But I’m still hoping. If nothing else, camp is forcing us both to slowly get back into the habit of a regular bedtime and packing lunch and getting dressed before noon. We will need those skills come fall.

I had the privilege of leading the service this morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, in a fabulous collaboration with Ashley Greve and Bob Blinn. Our wonderful artist in residence Maya Rogers led the music.

You can watch the service here!

I included this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye as part of my prayer and meditation.

Different Ways to Pray

There was the method of kneeling,
a fine method, if you lived in a country
where stones were smooth.
The women dreamed wistfully of bleached courtyards,
hidden corners where knee fit rock.
Their prayers were weathered rib bones,
small calcium words uttered in sequence,
as if this shedding of syllables could somehow
fuse them to the sky.

There were the men who had been shepherds so long
they walked like sheep.
Under the olive trees, they raised their arms—
Hear us! We have pain on earth!
We have so much pain there is no place to store it!
But the olives bobbed peacefully
in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.
At night the men ate heartily, flat bread and white cheese,
and were happy in spite of the pain,
because there was also happiness.

Some prized the pilgrimage,
wrapping themselves in new white linen
to ride buses across miles of vacant sand.
When they arrived at Mecca
they would circle the holy places,
on foot, many times,
they would bend to kiss the earth
and return, their lean faces housing mystery.

While for certain cousins and grandmothers
the pilgrimage occurred daily,
lugging water from the spring
or balancing the baskets of grapes.
These were the ones present at births,
humming quietly to perspiring mothers.
The ones stitching intricate needlework into children’s dresses,
forgetting how easily children soil clothes.

There were those who didn’t care about praying.
The young ones. The ones who had been to America.
They told the old ones, you are wasting your time.
Time?—The old ones prayed for the young ones.
They prayed for Allah to mend their brains,
for the twig, the round moon,
to speak suddenly in a commanding tone.

And occasionally there would be one
who did none of this,
the old man Fowzi, for example, Fowzi the fool,
who beat everyone at dominoes,
insisted he spoke with God as he spoke with goats,
and was famous for his laugh.

Here’s my reflection: The New Kid

The New Kid

Picture me, age 7, wearing a sunshine yellow Izod shirt and matching cotton shorts, missing a couple teeth, cruising down the sidewalk in blue and white roller skates. I would happily skate up people’s driveways to see who was available to play. Some days we watched monster movies with Geoff and David, some days we twirled batons with Amy and Karen, some days we played king of the hill on the pile of mulch in the Perrys’ driveway. It was all very suburban and lovely. Until…

After I finished second grade, our neighborhood elementary school closed and became a police station. The kids in our neighborhood were sent to two different schools, one of which included the gifted program that I had been assigned to. I was nervous about going to a new school, but then third grade started, and I found my people, and absolutely loved my new school. One of my best friends from third grade remains one of my best friends today.

Meanwhile, back in my neighborhood, something strange was happening. When the kids I used to play with in the cul-de-sac realized I wasn’t going to school with them anymore, they stopped playing with me. Or speaking to me. Somehow, they got this idea, whether it was from their parents or each other or who knows where, that I thought I was better than them. I didn’t. I wasn’t. Just because I was going to a different school with a different program did not mean I didn’t still want to ride bikes and play tag with them. I did. But I wasn’t allowed to anymore. They unceremoniously unwelcomed me from their midst. It was awkward and painful. They assumed something about me that wasn’t true—that I was suddenly arrogant, or a snob, even though I wasn’t behaving any differently than I had when we were hanging out in their basements. But that was that.

Fast forward a few years to ninth grade and another fork in the academic road. My friends from junior high were scattering to different high schools. My neighborhood school did not have a stellar reputation. I had heard rumors of chain-wielding gangs of immigrants roaming the hallways. Somehow, I bought into some bizarre stereotypes. I assumed the worst. So, I found a math class I could take at another, allegedly better, high school, and transferred. And I had the absolute worst year of my entire public education career. At this school, which was much richer and much whiter than my neighborhood school, people were mean to me. I was turned away from activities I wanted to do. Hardly anyone in my classes spoke to me. I was miserable. I made a handful of friends who sustained me that year, mostly people from the literary magazine who considered themselves willing outcasts of the school’s elitist culture. By the end of the year I was willing to face the prospect of roving gangs at my neighborhood school because I figured they couldn’t possibly be more unkind than the privileged white kids I’d been surrounded by all year.

First period in 10th grade I walked into Mr. Lunsford’s biology class at my neighborhood school and a whole bunch of people, most of whom I had never met, seemed surprisingly, genuinely happy to see me. As the days and weeks went on I was warmly greeted by familiar faces from elementary school and total strangers. I felt at home instantly. And guess what? No threatening thugs anywhere. Whatever I had assumed turned out not to be true. Surprise!

Recently I’ve been reading this book—Wonder by RJ Palacio—with my daughter at bedtime. I read it originally when it came out in 2012, and it’s one of my favorite books. Wonder is about a boy named August Pullman who is starting middle school and he’s nervous. Not just because he’s been homeschooled his whole life, or because it’s middle school, but also because he has a severe craniofacial anomaly. Genetics conspired to make Auggie’s face startlingly different from typical faces. By age 10 he has already undergone dozens of surgeries. When Auggie introduces himself at the beginning of the book, he says, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Our only insight into Auggie’s appearance comes from his description of people’s reactions to him. Stares, gasps, kids running away on the playground. At his new school, all but a couple kids give him a wide berth. They cover their mouths when they whisper about him, but he knows exactly what they’re saying. Many of them play a cruel game they call the Plague, where they try not to touch Auggie, even in passing, and if they do they have to immediately wash their hands to prevent catching what they somehow imagine is the disease that caused Auggie’s facial differences.

The few kids who actually get to know Auggie discover that he’s awesome. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s kind. He loves all things Star Wars, and playing video games, and when his dog Daisy licks his face. But because he looks so different, most kids, and many parents, don’t give him a chance. They make assumptions, such as that the school made an exception to admit a student with special needs who requires extra accommodations, none of which is true. One mom goes so far as to Photoshop Auggie’s face out of the class picture, saying he just doesn’t fit in.

Later in the book we do read a detailed description of Auggie’s looks from the point of view of his big sister, Olivia. She is realizing that there’s the Auggie she sees, of whom she has always been fiercely protective, and the Auggie that other people see. She is candid about the effects that having a little brother who looks so shockingly different has had on her life. She is loving, and patient, but also weary. And honest.

Olivia’s voice is one of several we hear in Wonder, in addition to August’s, which is one of the reasons I love this book so much. Mr. Tushman, the director of August’s school, says at one point, “there are almost always more than two sides to every story,” and RJ Palacio offers us windows into the many facets of this story. She wrote a companion book in 2014 called Auggie & Me, which tells the same story through the lens of three other characters, including Julian, who is Auggie’s greatest antagonist in Wonder. Just as so many kids make assumptions about Auggie based on his looks, the reader makes assumptions about Julian based on his behavior. Clearly, he’s just a jerk, right? But there are, as Mr. Tushman points out, almost always more than two sides to every story.

Our brains are hardwired to categorize for survival—is this creature friendly or likely to eat me? Is this food edible or poisonous? But what happens when that desire to classify everything you see gets out of control? I struggle with this constantly. Is that person thinner than me or fatter than me? Does that person have holes in her clothes because she can’t afford better clothes or because she’s trying to be fashionable? Why is it fashionable to have holes in your clothes? My brain goes into overdrive. So while I want to be welcoming, while I aspire to be friendly, while I deeply wish I were the person who goes over and sits down at the lunch table where the different looking new kid is sitting all alone on the first day of school, I don’t know if I really am. I am convinced that sometimes my assumptions—about someone else or myself—get in the way. What if that person who is crying just wants to be left alone? What if I am insensitive because of my white privilege? What if I ask an intrusive question because I am curious?

Sometimes this interrogation of myself keeps me from being welcoming, inclusive, or brave. Our theme here at UUCA for September is welcome. So today I’m making a commitment to be more welcoming, everywhere I go, whether I am greeting the new kid or I am the new kid. I’m making a commitment to not let those questions and assumptions ricocheting around my head get in the way of reaching out to someone. I’m making a commitment to remember that there are almost always more than two sides to every story, and to do what I can to listen to all the sides.

One of the great characters in Wonder is Auggie’s English teacher, Mr. Browne, who teaches his students about precepts—words to live by—and encourages them to come up with their own. I’ll leave you with Mr. Browne’s precept for September, a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

May it be so. May it be so. May it be so. Amen.

imagesAs we prepared to bury three goldfish in the backyard this afternoon, I thought about William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which I read in 11th grade and remember only bits and pieces of, but enough to picture a homemade coffin and grotesque family dynamics related to the family matriarch. By contrast, I dug a shallow grave in the mulch and dirt under the pathetic frozen hydrangea bush. I laid to rest Dumbledore (the fish, not the wizard), who had been stored in a small cardboard box within a ziplock bag since his untimely death on January 4, just 11 days after he and his fish friends Mad-Eye Moody and Tonks were given to Zoe for Christmas by Aunt Susannah and Uncle Aaron. The fish and their home were her favorite Christmas present. She had asked for fish for Christmas but revealed to me after the fact that she did not actually expect to receive any.

We thought Dumbledore died from too much poop in the fish tank, so we thoroughly cleaned the tank after he died. We journeyed to PetSmart to find a successor but instead bought new rocks and plastic plants for the tank. The fish woman at the pet store said goldfish are not really meant to be pets. They’re meant to feed larger fish or swim in ponds, she suggested. Perhaps that’s why they cost 15 cents each, or something like that. We learned that all the other fish available at PetSmart are not compatible with goldfish because goldfish can live in cold water, and the other fish need heat. So Zoe and I decided that we would continue to care for Tonks and Mad-Eye until they outgrew their tank or died.

We did not expect that death would come so soon, just two weeks later. Because of what happened to Dumbledore we were proactive in cleaning the tank on Monday night, before it was noticeably poop-ridden. Speaking of poop, Zoe had observed that each fish in turn was constipated. I had not known this was a problem that beset goldfish but it is. Zoe brought home a book from the school library about goldfish care that instructed us to feed the fish tiny bits of lettuce or oats if they were constipated. Randy and I each chopped up some lettuce and Zoe conscientiously fed it to the fish as needed until their GI tracts were clear.

So when we cleaned the tank, we did all the same stuff as before, except for whatever we did differently, because in the morning Tonks and Mad-Eye were floating awkwardly instead of swimming jauntily as they had been for the past two weeks.

Zoe was distraught. The night Dumbledore died she sat in my lap and cried for a while (probably also because she and Randy had just returned from an exciting adventure in Florida with her paternal grandparents and she was coming down from that). She apologized the next morning for crying and I told her she was entitled to cry and there was no reason to apologize.

So this morning she was even more distraught, and cried in my arms again for a while. I called school and told them she would be late. All she was missing was PE. I emailed her teacher to alert her to Zoe’s disposition. After school today, in the bitter wind and 25 degree temperatures, we held the fish funeral. I said thank you to the fish for being Zoe’s first pets, and for contributing to the soil so flowers could grow, and said that I hoped they were swimming happily in fish heaven. I held Zoe’s hand. She cried. She said goodbye. Later, inside, she told me there was more she wanted to say but she couldn’t because she was crying, so she said it in her head. I told her she could still say it, to me, or she could write it down, or she could just keep it in her heart.

Now the tank is empty. The light is off. The filter is quiet. It’s too cold to buy new fish right now and we’re expecting a massive snowstorm this weekend. I told Zoe this would be a good opportunity to research some heartier aquarium fish and–more importantly–how to take care of them. The fish were possibly a starter pet as we considered small mammals for the future–perhaps a pair of guinea pigs? But we’ve got to improve our fish skills before bringing anyone furry into the house.

When I was a kid I had a series of goldfish. I don’t even remember how many. One of them–who I know was named Patrick–jumped out of the bowl and I found him lying on the carpet of my bedroom when I got home from school. I couldn’t understand what had prompted him to try to escape. I buried them all in matchboxes in the backyard. I don’t remember my parents helping, but maybe they did. I don’t remember crying, but probably I did.

Today I could tell that Zoe’s heart was breaking, even though they were only fish, and even though she had known them for less than a month. They were her first pets. They were wholly hers. And she loved them.

louseWhile I hate to keep Zoe home from school when it’s only the second week, I also don’t think she’ll be in much shape to learn anything tomorrow morning at 8 when she went to sleep just before midnight. Why did she stay up until midnight on a Monday night, you ask? The answer is a repugnant four-letter word: LICE.

Most nights after she showers, Zoe asks me to comb her hair, and tonight when I was combing I observed some small, unwelcome creatures crawling on her scalp. After Randy had taken Zeke upstairs to bed, I told Zoe that I thought she had lice, and she started weeping. I called my mom for advice. I tried to calm Zoe down but I also felt like the need to expunge the bugs was rather urgent. I combed and she cried. I texted friends whose children I knew had dealt with lice. After Randy came downstairs I dispatched him to the drugstore to buy some lice-repellent product. Zoe asked if I was going to be combing her hair for the rest of her life, and I said, yes, I would be combing her hair when she breaks her board this Saturday at the martial arts growth ceremony, and when she goes to the prom, and as she’s walking down the aisle during her wedding. She added that I would be combing her hair while she was giving birth to her first child, and then while she was combing her own child’s hair. By then she was laughing instead of crying.

I did the treatment. Randy stripped the bed and sprayed it with some magic lice-be-gone spray. I did the second treatment and combed again and made the bed. I put most of the stuffed animals in the wash and some pillows in a trash bag where they’re supposed to live until the lice suffocate and die. I inspected Eve, Zoe’s doll who cannot go into the wash, and she looked clean. I didn’t feel like giving her the treatment. Also she doesn’t have hair.

It’s Randy’s birthday too. Fortunately we celebrated yesterday, as tonight was not especially festive. Exciting, sure. Festive, maybe not. Although yesterday was also exciting when the cake we made for Randy caught fire in the oven (marshmallows on top) and Randy blew it out and made a really big wish. That was festive AND exciting.

Before the discovery of the bugs tonight, Zeke had mysteriously melted down at dinner. He burst into tears because Randy cut up his broccoli too small, so he could eat it. He wanted big broccoli. This might not sound crazy, but Zeke doesn’t usually get upset about such things. He usually spends dinner either eating his food, spilling it on himself, or trying to make us laugh. I guess he had a long day. We went to the meet and greet at his preschool today so he could check out his classroom and spend a few minutes of quality time with his teacher. On the way into the school he was so excited that he started sprinting across the parking lot and fell down and scraped up his knees. They were still hurting him at bedtime. We tried to assuage him with Muppet band-aids. So Zeke was feeling a little fragile all day, although when I strapped him into his carseat as we were leaving preschool he had tears welling up in his eyes and I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing. Happy.” Perhaps even he didn’t know what was wrong. But he seems to love his teacher, who was once Zoe’s teacher and as a result greeted Zeke by name last year when she saw him in passing. I didn’t know he even noticed or remembered her, but when I introduced her to him as his new teacher he leaped into her arms and gave her a hug like they were long-lost buddies. It is possible he doesn’t understand why he keeps going to school for brief periods of time only to have to leave again just when he’s getting going. Thursday is his first real day. Hopefully it will be satisfying for all of us.

The report on third grade: so far so good. Zoe says her teacher is awesome. She is thrilled to have a locker, for which she shopped for decorations this past weekend. I still haven’t gotten a lot of concrete details about anything she’s learning, but she’s seemed happy every day when I’ve picked her up, so I’ll take that. Except today when I picked her up, I asked how her day went, and she said she spent most of it worrying. This afternoon she had her green solid belt test at Evolve All, where she had to demonstrate the exercises, techniques, and understanding that green solid belt martial artists are supposed to master. She was nervous. She said Master Emerson reminded her last week that it’s good to be nervous because it means it matters. During the test I kept Zeke entertained with puzzles and snacks and a blue car we rolled to each other, while I watched Zoe out of one eye. She did awesome. I can see how much confidence and poise she’s gained over the past year, even though she still gets nervous. She passed. She wasn’t as pleased with herself as I expected, but she stood on her head in the turf room for a bit afterwards, which always seems to make her happy. Now onto the board break on Saturday. I will remind her again then as I did today, what Rev. Aaron said in his sermon on Sunday, “We got this.”

So watch out, lice. Move on out. We have our combs and our creams. We can run our washer and dryer all night if we have to. We got this.

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