Handprints

Virginia’s spring break began yesterday, so instead of scrambling to find a camp or a friend to take her for the day, I took her with me to my community college campus. When she was little—preschool little—she’d accompany me to school every day. Our campus is fortunate to have an excellent (and affordable) early learning program. It isn’t a daycare, but an actual preschool. She loved preschool and pre-K so much, she never wanted to leave, and when I would arrive to pick her up, she’d give me a quick hug and then return to finish her necklace made of noodles, or put the finishing touches on her sand castle, or continue work on her masterpiece made entirely of colored masking tape.

When I told her Wednesday that she’d be joining me the following day at Bucks, Virginia rolled her eyes. “Really, Mom? I get to spend my first day of spring break at school?” She had a point. I took her anyway.

She patiently put up with me taking her around the Language and Literature department and letting the faculty and staff ooh and aah at how tall she’s getting and grown-up she’s looking. She responded with lots of “Thank you,” and “Yes, it’s my first day of spring break,” and “Uh-huh,” followed by a smile. I dragged her to two classes and a meeting, with promises she could use her Kindle and iPod as much as she wanted and I’d buy her lunch at the cafeteria. In my literature class, when invited by one of the students, she even sat in with a small group, tasked with discussing questions about a short film on Southern writers, William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston.

Overall, she took the day like a champ, and I was proud of her. But she was ready to go by the end of it, ready to return to her world and escape mine. I know she doesn’t look at what I do and think, “Wow, I want to be a community college professor when I grow up!” Which is OK. That’s never been my intention. Actually, I had no ulterior motive in bringing her with me other than getting out of spending $95 for a day of camp at the Handwork Studio*. And I think these infrequent visits to college must demystify the experience for her. I hope so. I hope she sees college students as mostly engaged and curious, professors and staff as mostly friendly and knowledgeable.

So at the end of the day on our way to the car, we approached the Early Learning Center. “Isn’t that my old preschool?” Virginia asked. “Yep,” I answered. We paused just outside the front door. “Want to say hello?” She nodded, and as soon as we stepped foot inside the door, Miss Mary, Virginia’s pre-K teacher saw us and made a beeline. It was hard for Virginia to be too cool in the Early Learning Center and soaked in the room that had brought so many hours of happiness and learning into her world six years prior.

She melted when she saw Miss Mary and didn’t bother to tamp down her smile. The room looked the same. Miss Mary doesn’t seem to age. We marveled at her little 4-year-old handprints on the class of 2009 ceiling tile—a project where each student of the out-going pre-K class dips their hands in paint and presses their palms onto a tile that’s later affixed to the classroom ceiling. And I watched Virginia wrestle with feelings of both cozy nostalgia and being too big for the space. It was no longer hers in the way it was when we both drove up and down I-95 every day during the years she attended the ELC while I taught in the building next door. And I wonder, if I bring her back in another couple of years, will her handprints still be there? As long as they are, 4-year-old Virginia will always be in the Early Learning Center.

*The Handwork Studio, by the way, is FABULOUS—we’re huge fans. It’s the one place where the projects that VA makes, we actually keep and use, rather than keep for a little while and then surreptitiously toss while she’s at school.

Keep Your Friends Close and Insurance Company Closer

Shame on me. Seriously. This week, Josh and I finally decided to buy a new car. We’re overdue. We need something safer and with all-wheel-drive, so we settled on a Subaru. And when you buy a new car, you need to also buy auto insurance. I was not looking forward to that phone call, though I happily considered the ways in which I could drop my current carrier. Because when I looked at previous years’ statements, our payments kept inching up every six months. I meant to look into it every time I watched the rate hike and find out why, but I didn’t, and this cost us. This month, after the rate increased again for our aging car, we were paying over $140 per month to insure our old, crappy car. Neither Josh nor I have had any tickets or accidents, so when you lump in a car whose worth is in a steady decline, logically, it would seem that our payments would go down. Nope.

Well, a couple of days ago, I called and when I mentioned I was shopping around for rates, they told me, “We’d hate to lose you after 13 years.” And I thought, holy crap, we’ve been loyal customers for 13 years and they’re screwing us? The representative offered me not only more coverage for both the new car and the old, but also for $50 less than what we’ve been paying for just one, old hatchback. So it got me thinking, am I just being scammed? Is auto insurance just one more way I’m slowly being ripped off? Do I now need to pay attention to my rates going up as Josh and I become more attractive drivers in their eyes and my cars age? I thought our payments were supposed to go down.

It reminds me of when we had cable. Every year or two, I had to make a phone call to the cable company and threaten to leave in order to get them to continue the deal we had before they jacked up my rates. I hated playing this game, which is why we eventually cut the cord. I feel like these companies are less concerned with customer satisfaction and instead count on their customers being too busy to comb through each bank and credit card statement every month even when they start feeling they’re getting ripped off. Most people have other, more pressing daily tasks that require their attention—working, walking the dog, helping a kid with their homework, making breakfast—and companies know that. So now I have to pay attention to my auto insurance. And by the way, we’re sticking with our auto insurance company despite the fact we now need to attend to our payments. You win, Geico, but I’m keeping my eye on you.

Sincerely Yours

Dear Sarah,

Welcome to your 70s! Wow, I must start off by saying—you look great. I mean, you clearly are drinking enough water and your skin, well, it’s the skin of a woman at least 10 years younger! All of the sunscreen you slathered on every day, year after year, is finally paying off. That “procedure” you had done to your face as a 65th birthday present to yourself really has made you look rested and refreshed all these years. I must say your face looks age-appropriate, but also elegant and soft. Well played, lady.

I am also way impressed with how active you are and how much energy you have. Are you seriously running another marathon this year? Well, I guess that’s what happens when you stay in fighting shape your whole life (and get your running shoes on and butt out the door even when you’re feeling lazy). I’m so glad you took up yoga in your early forties like you promised yourself you would—it’s absolutely saved your posture and flexibility. I see exercise isn’t your only healthy habit. Although you’re not a crazy nut about eating right and allow yourself the occasional indulgences, it’s obvious you think about what you eat and make smart choices most of the time. Cooking just about every night wasn’t always the easiest, especially after a full day of work and shuttling Virginia around for gymnastics and soccer. But your effort paid off—eating well-balanced meals and making sure you got your fruits and vegetables every day worked out for you. Switching over to wheat bread and laying off the Cheez-Its probably didn’t hurt either.

There’s an ease about you these days that you haven’t always had. You’ve learned to relax and enjoy the moment more. Was fretting about every mundane detail so important? No, of course not. You’ve learned to avoid stirring yourself up over things that don’t deserve it. I’m also glad you spent all that time with Virginia helping her with her homework, even when she was totally sick of you. Now you have that relationship you always wanted to have with her. And how great is it that you and Josh are still madly in love and partners in life after decades of marriage? I’m betting the increase in travel, especially after you both retired, kept the fires burning. Not harping on Josh about leaving the entryway light on all the time probably helped, too.

As write this letter to you, my older, wiser self, I’m thinking—I’m trying to everything right here and being old better be fucking worth it, or I’m gonna be pissed.

Best,

~Sarah

Pioneer Woman

There are few things more personally satisfying for me than polishing off dinner leftovers. There’s a teensy bit of that pioneer spirit that makes me want to repurpose last night’s dinner into something new and delicious and worthy of a second take. And often it is not “new and delicious,” but at least it’s gone.

I must say, lately we are killing it in the leftovers department. Last night’s roast chicken dinner? *Bam*—nuked and sliced over salad the next day for lunch. Or *bam*—diced and turned into chicken salad. Or *bam*—shredded and stirred in matzo-ball soup. And that’s just chicken. Most leftovers of any sort—pork chops, roasted veggies, salmon—I’ll pile on top of a salad for lunch. Or stir in with morning eggs. And my weariness of eating virtually the same thing for a few days in a row can’t steal my joy of finishing them. We’re eating our leftovers—yay, us! However, the days when I am forced to step on our garbage can pedal, hold my nose, and toss the ancient beef stew into the trash are sadly far from gone. When I must throw out leftovers gone bad—it’s a crushing defeat. Darn you, slow-cooker pork from last week—you’re just not worth the risk!

Calling myself a pioneer woman is a pretty grand overstatement. I shouldn’t be so proud of eating leftovers. But deep down, I know I’m just not tough enough to eat the same thing twice a day for days on end. A day and a half, yes. After that and I start to get cranky. And a pioneer woman would shovel her own damn snow. But yesterday, when I asked Josh if he needed help shoveling our front walk, I asked in that voice that really meant, “Please, please don’t take me up on my offer! I hate shoveling snow! And it’s so warm inside.” I’m sure the pioneer woman composts. When I think of composting, I think, yuck. I also think, bugs and rats. And a pioneer woman is probably a master camper, able to sleep every night under the stars and subsist on nuts, berries, and squirrel meat. My idea of camping is to go to the woods for the day and then catch a ride home before it gets dark. Home is where my bed is. And my hair dryer.

I know having that true pioneer spirit is probably the best way to be, but frankly, I’m going to have to settle for pride in finishing up my dinner leftovers. I’m just too lazy and not good enough to embrace my inner pioneer woman.