The night before Axel, Little L and I were to leave for California, Axel and I talked through how the grand voyage would go. This would be our third plane trip with Little L, but it had been about nine months since the last time we flew.
My first point of business: coffee.
“No. Definitely not,” Axel replied before I even started to plead my case. On the last trip I asked for a cup of coffee which Axel then had to practically hold over the person to his left since Little L was sitting on my lap and grabbing at everything in sight.
“It’s not safe,” he said. “She wiggles too much.”
I already knew it wouldn’t work, but I wanted him to understand my suffering. “It’s just, imagine this. You’re in a situation that is super stressful. And then, all of the sudden, someone walks by you, offering, for free, the thing that is your favorite in the world! And you’re supposed to say no!”
We settled on that I would buy a glass of wine instead. But it wouldn’t be free.
When they came through the aisle with the coffee I followed the plan and ordered my glass of wine, which turned out to be a small bottle of wine. But I didn’t drink it. Axel stored the unopened bottle in the diaper bag because Little L had begun her Hour of Despair. When walking up and down the aisles was a grand failure, nearby passengers – a family traveling with three kids; they were clearly experts – offered us M&M’s and music on their phone.
Little L’s bedtime came and went, and although she was sucking her fingers and we pulled out her sleep sack and her worn bear, there was no sleep.
By the time we were to Carrie and Max’s house, Little L passed out in her Pack N Play exactly two minutes after we left her, clutching Oso the Bear, even though it had been thrown on the airplane bathroom floor in a fit of rage.
Thirteen hours later, Little L woke up in better spirits.
What she didn’t know was that outside her window in California, a park awaited her.
But not just any park.
A closed park.
This would be Little L’s own tempting coffee cart situation.
We went out looking for parks. “This one is closed,” I said, “but I think there’s an open one on the next block. We’ll have an adventure!”
“Ven-chew!” Little L chimed in, clearly now knowing what she was – or wasn’t – in for.
I jogged, using the umbrella stroller that was about a foot too low, and we approached another park!
Little L took it in stride, but I knew I’d better think quick.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Let’s just go to the school. I know they have a playground!”
So I shuffled over there, starting to break a bit of a sweat, only to turn the corner and see the the big black fence of the school locked, perhaps because it was Sunday.
“Ok how about you just explore here?” I asked Little L. There was a ramp that Little L walked up and down and some plants for her to look at and try to sit on.
The next day Axel and I walked about half an hour to a park where Little L could play on the slides.
She had finally gotten her long-awaited metaphorical cup of airplane coffee.
A few days later, we boarded an early morning flight home to Minneapolis. I was seated with a perky Little L on my lap – she seems to take after me in that she seems not to mind early rising as much as staying up late – when a woman walking down the aisle said, “I know that baby.”
This woman, possibly a grandma now, has been here, been me, with a baby on her lap. She wants me to know that she knows my plight. Parenthood really is something we never forget, I thought to myself.
“I hope she’s happier this time.”
Ooooooooooh. It dawned on me.
“Wait, you were on the Friday flight?” I asked in horror.
“I just felt so bad for her,” she said generously before continuing down the aisle where I’m pretty sure she asked the flight attend to sell her and her seat mates noise-cancelling headphones.
This flight went much better. I drank just a cup of water and forced myself to politely decline the tempting coffee cart that came down the aisle.
Little L was in good spirits most of the flight, eating cereal and bananas, coloring and playing with her new dinosaur.
Until about an hour from home, she announced, “All done!”
“All done, all done, all done!”
She scrambled to get off my lap.
“We’re not home yet. Here, do you want to see a book?”
But before I knew what hit me, Axel knew what hit the guy in front of us.
“She threw her cup!” Axel whispered to me.
“What?” I looked under the seat and noticed the cup by the feet of the man seated directly in front of us.
He turned and passed it to me. “I’m so sorry,” I said, mortified. I didn’t ask if the cup had hit him, but from his tight-lipped smile, I think it probably did.
Axel wrangled Little L and I brought out the last item in the diaper bag of tricks – a Highlights magazine for babies. “Fly, fly, fly!” I sang the poem written in a quietish voice to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” I desperately checked the “time until arrival” every minute or so. Little L was all done with this plane ride, and so were we.
A week later, we had made many trips to the local open park, consumed plenty of coffee, and traveled on zero more airplanes.
Then we found out an April snow storm was coming. I cancelled my Thursday acupuncture appointment; it would be hard to get there. Axel would still be attending his Wednesday appointment, though, which was just around the time when the snow would begin.
“Hey,” I texted him. “Since I can’t go to acupuncture tomorrow, could you bring me a free coffee from the lobby? Decaf espresso. Hit the button two times. Thank you!” The free coffee machine is a key part of the healing experience.
Axel arrived home an hour and a half after his appointment had ended, carrying a cup of lukewarm espresso. “I gave you three shots,” he told me.
“Thank you so much for carrying it all the way home!”
He wiped melted snow off his face. “I had to wait for the bus for an hour,” he said. I imagined him in the blizzard carefully balancing the cup of coffee in his hand.
I smiled as I took a sip. “Hey,” I said. “I think this makes up for the lack of coffee on the plane.”
Sure, drinking coffee that is coming down the aisle on a cart in front of you is convenient. But having your partner carry your cup of doctor’s office espresso home for an hour in the snow, uphill both ways, in sopping wet tennis shoes makes it all the more delicious.
I didn’t even throw the cup at his head.
This episode of Good Work Great Life is brought to you by Minnesota and its April thunder snow – happy Snow Day, yet again!
On Christmas Eve, my brother presented Little L a homemade holiday card in lieu of a gift. Scrawled in black sharpie, it said, “I know one day when you’re older and able to read, you won’t have this card because Carissa will recycle it tonight.”
That wasn’t exactly true – it took me a few weeks to go through the holiday paper accumulations. I scanned the card. And then rather than dropping it in the recycling, I sent it to do a pre-recycle stint in Little L’s Purple Box of Paper (she takes after Axel with her love for shuffling papers). She can look at the photos and cards that came this holiday season before they meet their fate.
Like my brother, who is wise not to spend more than 3 cents on a sheet of printer paper for his holiday wishes, I am quite aware of what happens to cards. For most people, at least. My friend Thom, upon seeing Little L’s Purple Box, told me he keeps his holiday cards.
“Every year?” I asked.
“Yup,” he answered. “But I could be convinced otherwise.”
While that’s not my job, per se, I do hope he starts some sort of holiday card plan. He has a large basement for storage, but after a few more years of this, he might need to build a storage locker in the backyard or start a Second-Hand Holiday Card store. He has a lot of friends and family.
One day last week I took the recycling down to the garage. I opened the second bin from the right – the middle one is usually full, so I always go for the one-off.
I was about to pour my recycling in when I saw it.
Was that a card… from me!?
I would recognize my cheap Target cards anywhere. Plus the not-really-cursive and not-really-not-cursive mix of capitals and lowercase looked quite similar to my signature scrawl (I was known as the Poster Queen in high school for my stellar sign-making skills).
Upon a bit of closer inspection, it was indeed a sympathy card that I had written for a neighbor who had lost a pet.
I told Axel about it later.
“Well, I mean, you didn’t expect them to keep it forever, did you?”
I mean, I was actually proud of them that they had thrown it out. So promptly, too. They really were on top of their stuff.
“It’s just – you don’t expect to see your own card in your own recycling bin.”
“Makes you think twice about writing paper cards, doesn’t it?” Axel pointed out.
I like my paper cards. I don’t want to stop giving them or getting them. I also don’t want to keep them indefinitely.
Some of you may have been thinking it was going to be a card I had given Axel that he dropped in the bin. For a few reasons, that wouldn’t be.
A) Axel is a bit of a paper shuffler. I doubt he would be downsizing his own papers without my prompting.
B) Axel lives with me. I often downsize his papers (with his permission of course). A card I had written to Axel would likely have been scanned – by me – and have been in my recycling bag, not in the bin.
C) Axel knows what a snoop I am. In a situation where A and B didn’t ring true, he would take that card to work and recycled it there.
Now are you wondering if the neighbors scanned their card? I was concerned about that too, especially given the quick turnover. Just in case they had overlooked it, I snapped a photo and texted it to them for good measure.
As I opened the trunk to retrieve the diaper bag, I encountered a plate.
A dirty plate. And it wasn’t even our plate!
“Oh, Axel,” I sighed.
Then just last week Axel pulled a plastic bag out of his backpack.
“Look! It’s another plate from work,” he said proudly. Again it had food remnants on it.
Over tamales at Maya, I took the chance to interview Axel about his system.
“Can you explain why I found a dirty plate in the trunk?” I ask in what I won’t even pretend was a non-judgmental tone.
“You picked me up one day after work and I placed an umbrella and the plate in the trunk and I forgot about them when we got home. Because it’s kind of odd to have a dirty plate in the trunk. That’s not something you remember.”
“But then later you had a plate in your backpack,” I pressed.
“My system has evolved. I now bag it and put it in my backpack so I’m more likely to notice it and wash it and bring it back to work.”
More likely? Makes me wonder how many plates Axel has carried in that bag at a time.
“But why are you bringing the dirty plates home with you at all if they’re from the kitchen at work?”
“Well, I have to weigh the costs and benefits,” he tells me.
“Please, say more.”
“Well, missing my bus home and waiting an additional 25 minutes at a bus stop wouldn’t be worth taking the time to wash it.”
“Why are you forced to make that choice?” I ask. Some people might think one would have taken care of the plate before closing time.
“My office is too far away from the lounge,” he explains.
“And… the plate can’t just stay in your office?” I mean, I wouldn’t want to leave a dirty plate in my office, but you never know.
“There are roaches in my office, so I can’t leave anything with food particles. Otherwise, you’re right, I would just leave it. Having a dirty plate with cockroaches on it is worse than just having a dirty plate.”
“In a bag, you mean. Or in the trunk.”
“Please don’t judge me,” he says.
“So how can we all apply the dirty plate in the bag to our lives?” I ask. Maybe I can learn something from this practice.
After thinking a minute and munching on a tortilla, Axel sums it up. “Sometimes the optimal outcome may raise eyebrows. It doesn’t mean that you stop in the pursuit of excellence.”
I laugh as I spoon up my final rice drenched in salsa from the salsa bar.
“I feel like I may not be super comfortable with this article by the way,” Axel says, eyeing me suspiciously as I take notes on my phone. “In fact, if you’re quoting me, I get fact-checking rights.”
Note: This post was fact-checked by Axel himself. Two edits were made.
“You better get writing your blog post,” Nellie texted.
Joanie was next. “Another day off!?”
Alissa chimed in. “A snow day for you! I have faith in my district this time too!”
After the fated phone call, in which the unidentified voice that I would now recognize anywhere called and said, “Hello colleagues,” I did my Snow Day Dance as Little L and Axel looked on. And then I dialed Thom.
He answered (This may seem like a small thing, but he has a toddler and an infant and it was 6PM. Him answering was even more unlikely than a sixth snow day).
“I deserved this one,” he said. And he did.
“Not that it’s going to be relaxing,” he added.
“Yeah, snow days with little kids aren’t exactly like the snow days of the past.” I remember lounging around, reading, going for a walk in the snow, watching some daytime TV…
“I’m going to be watching both of the kids,” Thom said. His toddler’s day care would be open, but because of the snow, he wouldn’t want to drive him there.
What about the baby?
“My mother-in-law was going to watch him tomorrow,” he said. “But I think this means she gets the day off from driving over here in the snow.”
And same for my mom. She has our cold now, so I’m glad for her that she gets a Sick Day/Snow Day.
At bedtime, I heard Axel telling Little L what she had to look forward to tomorrow. “Tomorrow Mama is going to be home with you! We’re so happy for her, because she got a snow day! Of course, she didn’t really get the day off, because it’s going to be a Mama-Little L-Daddy day.”
“Hey since you’re working from home tomorrow, maybe you could give me like an hour? Not a Snow Day, but a Snow Hour?”
“I could do that he said.”
Then he turned to Little L. “We’re going to give Mama a Snow Fifteen Minutes tomorrow!”
Tomorrow will be snowy with a high of 29 degrees. Above zero!
Finally, a Snow Day that is reminiscent of the snowy days I see in the books Little L pages through like Amy Loves the Snow and A Very Special Snowflake. I think it’s time someone writes the soon-to-be-famous A Very Cabin Fever Polar Vortex series.
But tomorrow there will be snow we can go out in.
Sure, I would love a day to lounge around and kick the last sinus aches of last week’s cold. It would be great to sleep in until 8. Or 7. But this is an unexpected day off. I can deal with one child; I would normally be teaching 150 over the course of the day. Hopefully Thom can deal with two.
I willbe looking forward to taking Little L out in the snow. And to my Snow Fifteen-to-Sixty Minutes courtesy of Axel.
And of course, as always, I’ll be looking forward to nap time.
Thank you, Minnesota winter. And sorry to all the parents and families out there who are inconvenienced by this – I know there is a flip side.
Axel says it’s time to watch Bob’s Burgers and celebrate.
“You’ll probably actually have to work most of this week,” Thom texted me on Tuesday.
“Most?” I responded. “Do you mean most, like my four normal days? Or do you mean most of my four days?” I didn’t try to hide the excitement in my words.
Since my last post, I had been alerted to the fact that Thom had spent much of then Polar Vortex week with not just his baby, but with his toddler who had stayed home from daycare because of the weather. “It was 20% fun, 40% hard, and 45% so hard that I lost my mind and can no longer do math.”
This is why you don’t ask someone on paternity/maternity leave how their “vacation” is going.
This week was Thom’s last week home on paternity leave. For his sake, I hoped that there wouldn’t be another unexpected day off that he had to use his sick time for.
But for my own sake, I hoped there would be.
Come Wednesday, there was talk of lots of snow! I heard a student at school ask the principal if school would be canceled on Thursday. “I don’t think so,” she said. “But it’s always a good idea to check.”
To me, that meant a probable no. I have no evidence to support this, but I think there must be some undercover email chain for principals and office staff that lets them know ahead of time what is most likely going to happen with school cancellations. I remember the secretary at my former school smiling at me conspiratorially one day and saying, “Oh, I think they’ll cancel tomorrow.” They did.
Wednesday evening the snow began. I kept checking out the window, hopefully. Was it coming down hard enough?
And then, around 6PM, as I was heating up some sweet potatoes for Little L’s dinner, the phone rang.
It was a Minneapolis Public Schools number!
Jumping up and down, I answered.
“Please hold for a message from the Minneapolis Public Schools.”
Oh yes! I could wait seconds to hear the good news!
“Hello families,” my principal’s voice said. “I want to remind you that tomorrow morning is Family Involvement Day.”
I sighed. I had been duped.
I woke up at 4:30AM the next morning as Little L coughed a bit in her crib. I checked my phone. Minneapolis Public Schools had a message on its website: “School WILL be in session on Thursday, February 7.”
I checked the forecast. I had an acupuncture appointment at the U that afternoon and I would need to drive.
“Do you think I should cancel?” I asked Axel.
“I don’t think it’s supposed to be that bad, is it?” he asked.
I hadn’t made it to the gym that morning, so I hadn’t seen Sven Sungaard’s local forecast.
But at 11:30 at recess duty, the snow was still coming down – hard. In fact, I could barely see the other side of the field. Did I really want to drive in this?
On my lunch half-hour, I saw the art teacher. “Congrats on your commute!” she said. She lives near school too. But much of the staff would be driving to the suburbs, or further even, South Minneapolis.
I told her that I was going to maybe drive to acupuncture. “I think it helps me stay calm. But driving in this makes me anxious. So…”
As I filed through my phone to call and cancel the appointment, the art teacher leaned in and smiled. “I think they might call it for tomorrow. This is supposed to continue all night and the windchill tomorrow morning is -35.” Negative 35 windchill is the requirement for a school cancellation!
“Really? You think? Oh wow, that would be way better than having needles stuck in me!”
A district email said that all after-school activities had been cancelled. Then the assistant from prekindergarten came up to my room and asked if I wanted any help this afternoon because the afternoon prekindergarten class had been cancelled!
Things were looking quite promising.
I trudged home from work, thankful indeed for my short commute on foot.
I was again checking out the window for snow and heating Little L’s sweet potatoes, when I noticed a missed call on my phone.
It was from the Minneapolis Public Schools.
I dialed into my voicemail, and there it was.
“Colleagues, there will be no school tomorrow, February 8.” The message was significantly shorter than the previous FOUR messages for snow/cold days. They didn’t even state the reason, though I later read on the district’s Twitter account that the combination of snow/ice and -30 degree windchill was enough to make them think it would be dangerous for students to be waiting outside in the morning for likely delayed buses.
Little L saw me do my No School Dance yet again.
I had gotten 80% of the Snow/Cold days. Fair enough.
Thom texted me. “Okay, this is starting to sting.”
I texted my friend Alissa, a former Minneapolis teacher who had moved to another local district a few years ago. “No school tomorrow!?!?”
She texted back. “I know! I’m so happy for you! We’re still waiting to find out!”
I was impressed by her ability to feel sympathetic joy — i.e. happiness for someone else’s happiness — for me. I also got texts from Joanie and Ana who had seen on the news that I had won yet another day without school. “Yay! Enjoy!” they told me.
Last Friday Alissa and I went to Happy Hour after my long one-day Polar Vortex workweek. She told me about how last Monday when all of the other schools were closed, her school district already had a staff-only day on the books; staff was still to report, but two hours late. The teachers were in a training that was supposed to end at 4PM. At 3:45, everyone’s phones began ringing and they got the news that school would be closed for the next two days.
“Everyone was laughing and jumping up and down and screaming!” Alissa told me. “The presenter tried like three times to get us back on track, but we were so wild that he eventually said we would just end early.”
Both Alissa and I lamented that this “Teachers Find Out They Get Two Unexpected Days Off” moment was not caught on video.
This morning I was down at the gym watching the school closings, I mean, the news, while I worked out. They got to the “R”s and Alissa’s district was not on the screen. When they cycled through, her son’s district was! Ana’s son’s district was closed too! Ana later told me her son said, “What? Again!!?” when he found out.
I of course gave a hoot when Minneapolis Public Schools flashed up on the bottom of the screen, which in retrospect may have looked to the other early-morning exercisers like I was cheering for whatever piece of bad news was on at the time.
On my way back upstairs I pulled up Alissa’s district’s website. I so wanted her to partake in this unexpected windfall (snowfall?). “IMPORTANT MESSAGE!” came across the screen along with a pop-up window.
This was it!
“School WILL be in session on Friday, February 8,” it said.
It made me wonder – when Alissa decided to change districts, did she look into their data on snow/cold days? It could play an important factor for a potential student/family/employee.
I found out later that although Joanie and Wendall’s son’s preschool was also open, they decided to keep him home that day. I’m sure the teachers who did have to teach that day didn’t mind their reduced class sizes. Joanie and Wendall, we hope to hang out with you again someday, but now Little L is sick. Go figure.
The highlight of this Snow Day was when Little L and I spotted a mini-plow cleaning the sidewalks on the street below. Snow was shooting out the top, at least 30 feet high! “Look, it’s a plow? A snowblower?” What was this contraption called? Then I saw its logo. “It’s a Bobcat,” I told her.
When Axel came home, we were still looking out the window. “Tell Daddy what we saw,” I coaxed her.
“Books?” Axel guessed.
“A Bobcat!” I told him.
“Like with no tail?” He seemed puzzled.
After we’d cleared up the confusion, we continued to watch for more Bobcats – they cleared the two bridges in the distance as well!
We have to clarify when people came over. To the untrained ear, it seems like Little L wanders around the living roo, asking us to lift her up so she can look for a “vaca” or a “vodka” out the window.
Now that Thom is back at work with the rest of us, we’ll see what the rest of winter brings. It would be greedy for me to hope for more days off for myself. I got my 80%, fair and square.
But to have a friend’s best interests in mind?
That’s just generosity.
This post was intended to be posted on the day it was begun, last Friday on my actual Snow Day off. It should be noted that a Snow Day caring for a sick toddler is much different than a Snow Day on one’s own. Hence the post a week later. Enjoy.
“Are you going to write about this?” Axel asked me as I sat on the floor as Little L played with her “zoom-zooms” and the microwave clock counted down the minutes until nap time.
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
“You should,” Axel insisted. “Your readers will want to know.”
Monday morning: While working out in the gym in my building, I see the school closings flashing across the bottom of the screen. We start in the Ns and since my workout isn’t that long, we are only to Lakeville by the time I leave the gym again. At this rate, they should just post the ones that are in session.
I check my voicemail as soon as I get back upstairs. Minneapolis Public Schools called last night after I was asleep. Ugh.
You see, usually I would be thrilled with a snow day. But I don’t work on Mondays. And so the Monday Snow Day makes me think that it’s less likely that we’ll get any Cold Days later in the week, something there’s been talk of.
However, it is fair. I work four days a week, so I shouldn’t get to take part in all of the snow days. I should get 80%.
I text my friend Thom who is on paternity leave. “Ugh. Snow Day. From the only other teacher in Minneapolis not happy about this.”
“I’m going to file a grievance,” he texts back. All that sick time he was using up for his leave and school isn’t even in session…
For some reason, Little L sleeps in, giving me a sort of Snow Morning. After I shower, I get to drink coffee and write in my journal for almost an hour. I write about how it’s not a snow day for dads on paternity leave or stay-at-home moms or part-time workers who don’t work Mondays.
Little L’s music class is cancelled, which I’m partly disappointed by – what will we do all day? – but mostly relieved by – we won’t have to drive in the snow.
I text my new friend, who I’ll call Veronica. She and I met earlier this year on the street. We were both pushing strollers at 7:30AM on a Saturday and she crossed the street to continue the conversation I had started when we had first passed each other. It was friendship built on the early-morning desperation of wanting to interact with another adult, which is as good a reason as any. Veronica is at home with her one-year-old and I guessed that not being able to go outside was making her a little stir-crazy.
“Music is cancelled! Want to come over? You can park in our garage!”
She was there half an hour later with Baby D, who ate his breakfast at our counter while Little L partook in a second breakfast of some baby puffs that Veronica brought to share with her.
Sadly for us, they left after just half an hour – Baby D’s nap was coming up. Little L and I had the whole day in front of us.
Little L went down for her nap around noon – she’s been toying around with just one nap these days. I had my fingers crossed that it would be a long one. While reclining on the sofa in the media room, I thought to text our nanny who comes on Tuesdays, just to make sure she was recovered from the sickness she’d had last week.
She said that her flu had turned to a cold but that she could function.
Uh-oh. Have I mentioned that we are germaphobes?
Plus we’ve been waiting to see Joanie and Wendall for weeks now – their kids have been off and on sick. We need to stay healthy for the sake of our friendship.
Now, I had been fantasizing about no school on either Tuesday or Wednesday because of the projected negative 50 windchill. If it was going to come on Wednesday, I would stay home with Little L and Grandma S would get the day off. If it was to come on Tuesday, well, we have the nanny that day and I planned to take advantage of some alone time. I was thinking I could brave it to get out to my favorite café for a couple leisurely hours then walk home to my car and go visit Thom and his baby for another few hours. Maybe I would end the day with a visit to my brother, who works from home, for a quick cup of free coffee from his lobby.
But this was just a fantasy since I figured school wouldn’t be closed both Monday and Tuesday. I was sure we could get a grandma in here to sub, so I told the nanny that she should take tomorrow as a sick day.
But a sub wasn’t needed because shortly thereafter my friend Kole texted, “closed tomorrow and Wednesday.”
They were announcing today that we were getting two days in a ROW!? This was unprecedented. But it made sense – students had been off last Thursday and Friday for staff work days; at this point parents with day jobs must have been desperate figuring out what to do with their kids. I guess the thought was to give them a little notice.
“Staff members should NOT report to work,” the phone call said an hour later. I danced around the kitchen as Axel and Little L listened along with me on speakerphone.
I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get a day all to myself, but it was actually better this way – staying out all day in the negative 40 temps just to get my money’s worth from the nanny seemed a bit brutal. Little L and I would get some extra time together at home where blankets and extra layers of clothing abound. Plus I would get to lay down during nap time.
I texted Veronica. “School’s cancelled. Wanna come again tomorrow?”
“We’ll be there at 8:30,” she texted back.
I texted Thom. “You must be mad.”
“I’m at peace now,” he wrote back.
Tuesday was much the same as Monday. Except that because Monday’s nap had only been an hour and a half, I decided to try an earlier nap time.
“I want her to sleep longer,” I told Veronica. “And I want her nap to be later. But she’s only been taking long naps when it’s earlier.”
“Well if she’s only going to sleep longer when it’s earlier,” Veronica said, “maybe you should try that.”
This was exactly what I’d been thinking, so I gave it a go. Little L got her earlier nap and slept… fifteen minutes less than the day before. We hadn’t even reached noon, and I would have no more naps to look forward to.
Axel, however, lucked out, because he had been hoping we’d give him a ride to his meeting on campus. Driving through the university, I saw students completely bundled, only their eyes peeping out between their hoods and scarves. I also saw several youth wearing nary a hat.
I so wanted to call their moms and tell them.
Little L and I returned home and it was still only 1PM.
Little L, however, had some fun up her sleeve. She took some plastic bowls, a spoon, and a little container to a spot on the dining room floor. “Bay bih, bay bih.”
I had no idea what she wanted.
But then she patted her chest.
“Oh, you want your bib?” Baby bib.
I put her bib on her, and she sat there on the floor, spooning imaginary food from the trough of her bib to the bowl, for like minutes in a row without getting up.
I tried to sneak off to do some kitchen cleaning, but this was not part of the game.
“Mama!” She took me by the hand and led me back to this spot on the floor. Perhaps there was an imaginary table there that I couldn’t see. She patted the floor. “Mama.”
Later when I snuck off she came over saying “ma sih! ma sih!” She wanted music! I turned the stereo on.
She patted the ground. Mama sit.
So I was part of the entertainment. I sat there, and then laid there, yawning. I had used the first hour of nap time to scan some papers that had been building up. But then there was only one hour of nap time, so I never got around to the highly important part where you get to lay down.
Little L was so excited about her plates, bowls, and spoons that she spent almost an hour playing with them. She was so happy just to sit next to me and pretend to eat egg out of a plastic container and hand me her spoon once in a while.
I thought, this is so nice.
I also thought, this is so boring.
I decided then that there would be an afternoon nap or at least a rest period. I put Little L in her crib around 3:15. She was wide awake, but I was not. I laid down on my bed and read all the while listening to what sounded like a gymnastic routine on Little L’s monitor. Around 3:45 I went back to get her, slightly rested. I like to think she had benefitted from her Alone Time too.
We went with our neighbor across the hall and her baby down to the lobby where we sat and chatted and Little L bounced up and down on the ottoman and let a few dogs lick her. One dog, who we’ll call Squash, was wearing a bright yellow padded coat.
My neighbor Barb and her husband came by, all bundled up, going to Ginger Hop for Happy Hour.
“Stay warm!” I told them.
“We will! The real fun is tonight when we’ll go on a two mile walk.”
“Every year we pick the coldest night of the year and walk two miles.”
Wait, they were serious! I couldn’t decide whether this was an incredibly dangerous or somewhat endearing tradition. Probably both.
That night I told Axel that we should open a bottle of wine. It wasn’t every Tuesday that you didn’t have to work the next day. Because that’s right – at this point the university had cancelled not just classes but work for all employees the next day too!
We were both going to have a Cold Day!
“I still have to work,” Axel told me. “But from home.”
“I have a call. Plus I have a lot to do. But they sent an email saying that if we work we get comp time later.”
“So we both have off and I’m watching Little L and you get comp time? Do I get comp time too?”
“You’ll have to talk to Grandma S about that,” Axel said. She was getting Wednesday off from her Grandma duties. I didn’t get the impression that she was really all that excited about it.
On Wednesday morning I pull up Little L’s shade to find circles of frost covering the window.
“Uh-oh. Ay ay ay,” Little L remarks.
She grabs one of her washcloths and starts to “kee” the windows. But it will be another day until the frost begins to melt even a little.
Veronica and Baby D come over again. Later we sweep and eat lunch and look at books. Her nap is slightly longer.
During nap time Megan texts me from Oregon and asks if I am staying safe. I tell her that I am and that we are only going to venture out to go to Whole Foods, which has an underground parking ramp, so we won’t be out in the elements at all – from covered garage to covered garage.
“Wait? What? No. That worries me. Can’t you get groceries delivered?”
“Ahh, I’m sorry to make you worry,” I text back. “That’s why I didn’t want to tell my mom! Amazon stopped delivering groceries. I’ll bundle us up. Don’t worry.”
It was about this time that I got a phone call. And you know who it was, don’t you? It was Minneapolis Public Schools telling me that schools will remain closed on Thursday and that all non-essential staff should NOT report to work.
“We WILL have class as scheduled on Friday, February 1. We look forward to welcoming all staff back to finish the week strong.” I ran into the bedroom where Axel was on a call, pointing frantically at my laptop where I had pulled up the MPS website showing “No School on Thursday.” His eyes bulged in jealousy and astonishment.
Soon after, Veronica texted. “Minneapolis is closed again! Does that mean you’re off?” She must have gotten a call because she and Baby D take classes through Minneapolis ECFE.
“Yes! Want to come over again? If you’re not too sick of us yet?”
“If you don’t mind us coming again we’d love to!”
“You are really lucky you met her when you did,” Axel tells me. It seems unlikely we would have met strolling the streets this week.
On Thursday I get up early to go to the gym downstairs again. It is currently 23 below air temperature; the wind chill is colder. My body is starting to ache from the lack of moving, I think, or I guess possibly the cold. I see on the news that many people have lost power and that crews have been working – during the night!? – to fix it. They show images of workers wearing masks.
I also learn that local churches have opened up their doors to provide more beds for people who are homeless – how could anyone sleep outside in this? Then I see an unrelated bit about a local man who is sleeping outdoors in a hammock just for fun.
When “Minneapolis Public Schools” flashes on the bottom of the screen I do a raise-the-roof dance on the treadmill.
After Veronica and Baby D’s visit, Little L and I go out for a walk in the halls. We check the mail, which we haven’t picked up all week, but alas, our box is empty. The saying about “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” does NOT include the polar vortex. Rightfully so.
Little L and I have a good day and in the afternoon Nana J stops by – she and Grandpa J got the day off from Little L-care, but she still wanted to see us and bring us some food. I cleverly schedule the visit for after nap time and before dinner time – the time of day that seems to go on and on. After further consultation with Veronica, naptime will now happen around noon, because short or long, that is the time of day when I need a break.
All in all, I’ve done pretty well. I got to take advantage of 75% of our four unexpected days off, which is pretty darn close to my part-time appointment. The only way to make it perfectly even would be if Minneapolis called right about now to say they changed their mind about Friday.
But I’m not banking on it. For now, I’ll bundle up and head to work and finish the week strong. And with a one-day week, it shouldn’t be all that hard.
“On your left!” a voice rang out from behind as we were crossing the wooden bridge that connects Nicollet Island to St. Anthony Main.
I quickly steered Little L’s stroller as close as I could get to the bridge support to the left of us—
That’s right. Well, no, that’s left. I went left.
Four runners – the serious kind with neon green spandex and masks that molded to their noses – dodged between Little L and I on the left and Axel, who had expertly jumped to the right.
“Sorry!” I exclaimed, still a little frightened.
“Sorry!” a runner turned back and said. “We just didn’t want to scare you.”
“Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” A Chorus of Minnesota Nice – theirs and mine- ensued as they left us in the January ice.
Axel laughed. “They said, ‘on the left.’ They wouldn’t believe you’re an elementary teacher who couldn’t figure out left and right.”
“Well, actually,” I jumped to my own defense. “I heard ‘left,’ so I jumped left. I didn’t have time to think that if they’re on the left then I need to go to the right.”
If they had said, “On your left in 30 seconds,” I probably would have had the necessary time to self-correct.
“So would you rather that they said, ‘move right?'” Axel asked.
“I mean, it would be clearer.”
Clearer, yes, like the January morning. But friendlier – not so much.
I don’t anticipate that Minnesotans will change their practice anytime soon, but it does raise a question about etiquette versus utility. And it makes me wonder – no, it makes me sure – that there must be places in the world where people tell you where to move in order to avoid this awkward situation.
But are they nice?
And what is it I say, you’re wondering. Sometimes when I’m walking, I pass people. I either just sneak around them or hover awkwardly behind them until there’s a break to get around. I don’t notify them that I, in fact, am walking faster than them. On a city street, you can usually take advantage of a stoplight as an opportunity to overtake a slower pedestrian as you cross at the crosswalk – they tend to be wide.
Also, when it’s a male-female pair walking slower than me smack in the middle of the sidewalk, I have noticed the woman often asks her friend/coworker/partner/relative to move over so I can get by. Especially when I’m pushing Little L in the stroller. This is not empirical research; it is simply observational and I haven’t even tracked my findings.
Just saying, though.
And when I jog? My slow jog barely warrants passing a walker. The last time I passed another jogger was – well, never. So if I need to pass a walker, I don’t usually say anything, unless they are smack dab in the middle of the street – which, now that I think of it, Little L, Axel and I were in the situation of the four runners on the bridge.
So maybe the lesson here isn’t what you should say when you pass someone, but more that when you are on the street going along at a pace that might be slower than others, make sure you’re sharing the sidewalk and remember that the people behind you may not be as turtle-paced as you.
Remember that someone may want to pass you on the right.
Back in the day when my email address was still at yahoo.com, Axel and I used to sometimes host a small gathering on New Year’s Eve with a survey reflecting on the past year and looking forward into the New Year. Introverts loved this “party” and went home at 8:15 when they were done with their reflections and hopped into bed. Extraverts talked quietly to each other about the questions and then left to go to a real party after.
It’s been many years since I’ve hosted a gathering on New Year’s Eve – though unbelievably I did manage to attend one last year! There were no surveys though and by the time I realized this, it was too late to curate one.
I had brunch with my childhood friend Alice, in town from New York, just a few days ago. As we were parting ways, she said, “If you make a survey, send it to me!”
So here you go Alice and here you go everyone! I highly recommend printing this out or copying it down onto real paper, but I suppose you could just look at it on your phone and think about the answers. If you thought your New Year’s Eve in front of the TV with a box of Wheat Thins was going to be boring, it has now turned into the Reflective Event of the Year!
Happy Surveying to You and Yours. I, for one, hope to get back into surveys in 2019. May there be many more where this came from.
2018 Year in Review
What three verbs summarize your year?
What things (if any) made you laugh this year?
What things (if any) made you cry?
Who was there for you this year? Who were you there for?
Did you make any 2018 New Year’s Resolutions?
If so, are you able to recall or look up what they were?
If you have any idea of what they were, how did you do meeting those aspirations?
If you have no idea what they were, or didn’t make any, why?
Did you receive any odd holiday cards this year? If you didn’t understand them, did you contact the sender for clarity?
Draw a picture of the Typical You of 2018:
2019 Year in Preview
What ways of being do you want to continue into 2019?
What do you want to add/change in the new year?
What superhuman powers will you need to live the way you want to live this year?
What people, things, or situations are going to limit your dreams for the new year?
Can you imagine any way to limit the limitations?
Draw an encounter between the Typical You of 2018 (see your previous drawing) on their worst day and the Typical You of 2019 on their best day.
Now save a copy of this somewhere so that you remember what you’re hoping for this year.
“Hola!!” I said to a student and his mom; we were approaching them on the street in downtown Minneapolis.
“Hola!” they said back, both excited to see Little L; I often show videos of her in Spanish class at school.
“We’re out searching for her shoe,” I explained. “We lost it this morning on the way to music class.”
“Oh, she’s like Cinderella!” my student’s mother said. “Lost a shoe.”
While I might not jump to compare my one-year-old to a stereotypical Disney princess, in this situation, yes, she had lost a shoe – and it hadn’t even been because of a harried exit. In fact, the shoe hadn’t even been on her foot! I let her go in her socked feet to music class because it’s just a carpeted room and because we’re always late and it takes a good minute and a half to get those shoes on. But I had thrown them in the bottom compartment of the stroller just in case we stopped to roam around in a park on the way home.
We hadn’t, though so I didn’t notice the lost footwear until we arrived home – okay, after stopping to grab me a sandwich on the way. The whole music class outing, in fact, had seemed rather idyllic on this fall day. Or maybe just the walk home – watching toddlers try to play cymbals can be a little dizzying. We strolled through the autumn breeze, picked up toothpaste at the pharmacy, and bought a sandwich. This is what I had imagined motherhood being like while I was pregnant; the first year of Little L’s life was a reality check.
When we arrived home on this out-of-the-ordinary fall day, I removed only one pink sneaker from the bottom of Little L’s stroller.
Now that Little L was a walker, I had to think about shoes. She didn’t need them in her stroller or when running around the carpeted music classroom (don’t worry; we would change her socks when we got home). But what if we stopped somewhere and she asked to get out?
Asked is an exaggeration. What if she started flailing her body and trying to slip out of her stroller?
Best to be prepared, and so I had thrown a pair of pink shoes that I received from my aunt (receiving hand-me-downs and gifts and how to manage them is a whole topic of its own – let me know if any of you have any tips!).
But upon removing Little L from her stroller – she had not gotten out despite a weak protest when we strolled through a grassy mini-park across from Lunds – I found only one pink shoe in the under-stroller holder.
So after nap time, Little L and I set out again to retrace our route. I had already called music class and they did not have the shoe.
But surely someone had seen it along the road and set it on the curb or on top of an electrical box? I see things like this all the time.
Nothing. No shoes, not even anything pink that could have given me a moment of false hope.
In my mind I fantasized about finding that shoe – how vindicated I would feel. “We traced our entire route to music class and back!” I would tell Axel, who would listen with admiration to my perseverance and dedication to shoe recovery. “And then we found it!” I would conclude, victoriously.
You see, it was the only pair of shoes that fit her at the time. And it seemed like a waste to buy more shoes of the same size – who knows how long they would fit?
But that night I texted my mom, asking if she could get a pair of shoes for Little L. She brought them on Wednesday and informed me that although she had leveled up on Little L’s shoe size, she had stuck cotton in the toes.
It was not a week later when I found these in my mailbox at school.
While I didn’t know who had provided the mystery shoes, I was both grateful and disappointed. If only I’d discovered the barely-worn hand-me-down shoes sooner, I could have avoided acquiring that extra pair of shoes!
When I came home from work on a Thursday, my mother-in-law told me about the great time Little L had walking around with her grandparents in the park.
“And those little blue shoes, she loved them!” she said.
I was glad they fit.
“She loves how they squeak.”
Yup. Squeaky shoes. While I’ve seen my fair share of kindergartners with shoes that light up each time the strike their heel down, I didn’t even know shoes that talked were a thing. Go figure.
So now Little L is a big fan of the squeaky shoes. Now that it’s winter she mostly wears boots outside, but we use the squeaky shoes for adventures in the condo building like going down to check the mail.
A number of neighbors have been amused by the shoes and some of their dogs even like them too.
So for now, we use them every once in awhile – though I keep them hidden on a high-up shelf so that she won’t see them and ask to wear them.
And on the days when they get a little annoying, I think, well, she’ll probably either lose one or outgrow them soon.
For all of you who haven’t seen any photos of Little L recently, she’s not rocking her purple star helmet during the daytime anymore. It is now a sleep helmet – like a nightcap, but, well, more durable.
For those of you who haven’t seen Little L or her photos for the past half-year, she wore a head-shaping helmet because her head got a little flat on the sides from the way she was sleeping during those super-pliable early days.
Every three weeks since Little L got her helmet, she and I have visited our now-friend Mallory, who checks on the progress of her head, writes calculations on a post-it for me, adjusts the helmet, and calls me “Mom.”
When we first got the “she could really benefit from a helmet” diagnosis, we weren’t thrilled. Besides it being a hassle, I was worried what people would think.
But this is the way I’ve come to see it… Allow me to quote myself. I recently emailed a local author whose book about her preemie’s birth I had just read. I mentioned the helmet as one side effect of Little L’s early arrival to Planet Earth.
She (the author – not Little L!) wrote back to me that she liked what I had said. A real author, not only reading and responding my email, but quoting my email back to me! I felt like that guy in When Harry Met Sally, one of the few pop culture references I’m equipped to make, when he said, “Nobody has ever quoted me back to me before.”
So this is what I said:
I thought that it would bother me trying to explain it to people, but I think it’s actually been good for me. I think she looks adorable in it, and it will help her “toaster head” as the NICU nurses called it. Her journey into the world wasn’t exactly standard, so why not have a cute purple helmet to prove it?
In my memory – and in my photos, of which there are many – Little L’s transformation from infant to toddler took place in the helmet. I mean, she did wear it 23 hours a day! Learning to roll, sleeping on her tummy with her face smushed into the mattress and her butt up in the air – how many times have I looked on the monitor to see an astronaut sleeping in Little L’s crib? A fashionable astronaut with a purple helmet.
The first time she rolled herself from her own room to the living room, slapping the wooden floor and grinning at me. Crawling towards her sound machine with a giggle that gave away her plans for grabbing the cords. Laughing as a dog licked her face. Trying to crawl out of the “superdrum” the kids were sitting in during music class and a mom saying with a nervous laugh, “She’s fearless.” Learning to pull herself up those first times – onto the glass table at my sister-in-law’s house in California. We all felt better knowing she was wearing her helmet.
I am happy for Little L that her head can breathe easier now during daytime hours; she seems perfectly content wearing the helmet just at night. According to Mallory, soon we will hang it up for full retirement (will we keep the helmet? Keep a piece of it? How do you keep a piece of a helmet? A friend said she still has her fourth grader’s helmet).
At the beginning, I over-explained the helmet to strangers on the elevator and servers at restaurants. But as time went on, I only accounted for its existence when I felt like it.
I didn’t feel bad about it and I don’t think Little L did either. She rocked that purple helmet with pride.
I love her in her helmet and I love her without it. One of my favorite helmet snapshots is driving home from Joanie and Wendall’s house in early spring. They keep their heat a little warmer than we do, and Little L was overdressed, plus, you know, wearing a helmet. I stripped her down to her onesie and left her in her reduced clothing state on the ride home. I could see her in the review-baby-mirror: pantsless, grabbing her bare feet, sporting her purple helmet, snow passing by outside.
I thought, “that’s happiness.”
Some people need helmets to shape their heads temporarily. Some people need helmets for longer periods of time because of health conditions. Some people don’t wear helmets when they ride scooters through downtown Minneapolis. They should.
On our last visit to Mallory, Little L walked back to Mary’s office with a grin on her face. I remember our early days when I still brought in the entire carseat carrier from the car. She now has a mouthful of teeth. On this visit she spotted the little doll modeling a helmet – her same purple helmet. “Baby! Baby!” she said, and I gave her the doll. She proceeded to take its helmet off and then got frustrated when she couldn’t get it back on.
It didn’t fit on her own head either, but not for lack of trying.
“It’s really up to you,” Mallory said. “We could be done now or we could try another three weeks. Her soft spot is still a tiny bit open, so we might get a little bit more progress. But I’d have to see if I could make room in the helmet.”
“Can you try?” I asked after just a couple seconds of reflection. I’d been given this option at least three times before, and I kept making the same choice: Helmet On.
Mallory was gone longer than usual – I have a feeling she had her work cut out for her trying to make more room in a helmet that is probably past its peak.
When she came back in, Little L was standing looking at herself in the mirror.
“She’s my tallest patient!” Mallory said.
I handed her the “baby,” slipping its purple helmet back on. “She played with this.”
“That’s what it’s there for,” she said.
My pediatrician recently said that I probably know Mallory “almost as well” as I know her. I laughed – Little L and I see Mallory every three weeks; luckily we don’t need to go to the doctor’s office quite that often.
“I got it sized a little bigger,” Mallory reported. “So let’s see what happens in another few weeks.”
Exactly. We’ve come this far; I don’t see why we would quit now.
I’m prepared that the end of the Helmet Era is quickly approaching, that one of these Monday morning trips to Mallory’s office will be our last.
But I know that when I hear Little L’s giggle or watch her wobbly Frankenstein walk, I’ll remember her purple helmet. And this says a lot: I can’t promise that I’ll get rid of it.
Whatever your version of the purple helmet is, be proud of it. Wear it with pants if you like, or maybe just with a onesie. If someone in your life wears a purple helmet, don’t pity them. It’s there to serve a purpose. It is part of who they are.
So today, maybe during a trip to the bathroom for some much-needed Introvert Time, check in with yourself: what color is your purple helmet? Have you been wearing it? If not, it might be time to pull it out. As Mallory would say, try it just at night. That might be enough to make some progress.