Monthly Archives: September 2020

When life gives you lemonade

I’d picked up everything on my list at Costco, and on my way out I thought I’d walk by the book table to see what was there (Christmas is in less than three months’ time, you guys). Immediately my eyes fell on a box set of books I knew Liam would love, and (if you’re a kindred book lover, you’ll recognize this experience) I drifted to pick them up for a look as if the entire rest of the world had temporarily vanished. For all I knew, I floated there, I flew there, I vaporized and rematerialized with that book set in my hands. While enthralled in this approximately sixty-second rapture, a woman’s caustic voice cut through: “Is this your cart?” I looked up to find that, yes, this woman was addressing me, though her sunglasses indoors paired with a face covering gave me a moment’s hesitation, as did her tightly knotted neckerchief, and yes, she was in fact referencing my shopping cart that I’d left between the book table and a table covered in piles of loungewear when I’d been inexorably pulled away by the magnetism of new literature. “Yes,” I said, startled. “Why?”

“Because it’s blocking the way. It’s right in the way of EVERYONE.” I wish you could have heard the acid in her voice. Sure, my cart was totally in the middle of the aisle. Could another cart have maneuvered around it? Yes, thanks to Costco’s generously-sized everything, including space between displays, though it might have cost the cart’s driver an extra moment or two to manage the swerve-around. Still holding the books (don’t worry!), I promptly moved my cart and the woman pushed through, looking just where I don’t know because of those sunglasses, and when she’d passed, a woman folding inventory on the leisurewear table turned around and looked at me in horrified sympathy. I rolled my eyes in response (how great is it that we can convey these complicated expressions even while masked? And how many people now daily appreciate just how very powerfully and specifically eyes possess the ability to emote?!). When the sunglasses and neckscarf were out of earshot, the woman who’d shared my shock faced me fully, and I noticed her Costco nametag. “Why are people so rude?” she asked. I shook my head. “So sad,” I said, and she said, “I know! How hard is it just to politely ask someone to move a cart?”

We went on to have a conversation during which I told her that my first thought on the heels of the interaction was, ‘I’m glad my kids weren’t here to witness that example of adult unpleasantry’, which was immediately followed by ‘I wish my kids were here so I could use that as a teachable experience’. By now I’m quite familiar with the reactionary feelings of relief and regret coexisting within a moment, but it was interesting to share them as they were happening with this person who was at once a stranger and an ally. However, I’m not sure she understood what I meant when I said, “So sad,” which was this: I suspect that other woman must be so unhappy. And that makes me sad.

What kind of person is blatantly rude to strangers (especially during a worldwide pandemic)? What kind of person amplifies a small inconvenience in an effort to call public attention to another person’s mistake? What kind of person emanates unfriendliness energetically? The answer seems obvious: a person who’s unhappy in some deep and meaningful way. This woman, by the way, wasn’t someone with half her life left to enjoy, unfortunately; I’m guessing her age (again, it was difficult to discern much behind the facewear and the eyewear and the neckwear and the definitely dyed hair) was about 75. Taking all of this into account, it makes me think that this woman has been unhappy for very long time, and that’s what really struck me with a sadness. If we weren’t in this season of Covid, and if I’d been feeling particularly audaciously ambitious (perhaps empowered by the 20 oz. cup of Tropicana light lemonade I used to love sipping while trying samples throughout the store back in the recesses of 2019), I might have considered approaching this pillar of salt of a person, removing her sunglasses, and giving her a hug. At the very least, it would have been a fascinating interpersonal experiment. At the very best, she might have unfixed the snug knot in that scarf around her neck and waved it in the name of empowerment, then gone forth to purposefully change the frame of her world.

Ah, a woman can dream!

Two conversations

A Conversation with My Husband

Brian (noticing I wasn’t really eating dinner): “Are you not going to have any?”

Alison: “I’m really not hungry. I just ate some stuff.”

Brian: “Oh yeah? What did you have?”

Alison: “I unpacked all the lunchboxes.”

Brian, “Oh, right. Ok.”

A Conversation with my Kindergartener (in his bed at bedtime, of course)

Arlo: “I want to invite Broccoli to my party.” (His classmate is named Barclay. But I don’t correct him.)

Alison: “Absolutely. We’ll make sure to invite him to your next birthday party. I think we’ll be able to have birthday parties next year.”

Arlo: “And I want to go the the Discovery Museum.”

Alison: “I do too. It’s closed now, but I think they’re planning to reopen as soon as they can.”

Arlo: “It’s all because of the virus. I know you don’t like this word, but I think the virus is…”

Alison: “Stupid. I know; you want to say the virus is stupid.”

Arlo: “I’m so mad at the virus.”

Alison: “I hear you. I’m also mad that people aren’t wearing masks when they should be.”

Arlo: “We should teach them!”

Alison: “Yes, we should!”

Arlo: “Or punch them!”

Alison: “No, that would just make things worse.”

Arlo: “Or kick them!”

Alison: “No, not that either. I liked your idea about teaching them. What if we could punch and kick the virus, though?”

Arlo: “YEAH!”

Alison: “Maybe we could invent a virus for the virus!”

Arlo: “YEAH! We could make a virus that’s on our side!”

Alison: “Yes! A Supervirus!”

Arlo: “Ok! Goodnight! Have a good day! Work hard!”

In vino veritas indeed

One morning last week I attended my first meeting as a Garden Club member, where I received a nametag with a sunflower sticker on it to designate me as “new” and a beautiful floral face covering made by one of the other members. The gathering took place outdoors on a patio at a local vineyard/winery and began with a presentation by the founder and owner of the vineyard, who talked to us a bit about her journey to now and some of what she’s learned about growing grapes and making wine. While she spoke, there were a few moments when I repeated her words in my mind a few times because the ideas, which just rang so true, transcend the topics of grapes and wine (not that those topics aren’t important. They ARE. But grapes are mostly important to me because, well, wine).

For instance, she said, “When we started out, we had questions like, ‘How do you make Merlot?’ and we learned that you don’t make Merlot; you grow Merlot.”

A little while later she told a story about having a viticulturist come in to answer why some of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines weren’t doing as well as their neighbors, why they seemed more susceptible to powdery mold, why they weren’t putting out healthy growth. When the expert took a look at the plants, she said, “Those aren’t Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Those are Pinot Noir. You’re treating them like Cabernet Sauvignon, but they need to be treated like Pinot Noir if you want them to grow well and produce.”

It was about then that I thought, “At what point did she stop talking about winemaking and start talking about parenting?”

O is for…

My newly-minted Kindergartener brought home a book he’d made at school entitled My Feelings A to Z. This is page 15. Just look at that sun punctuating the top left corner, trying so hard–oh so very, very hard–to shine.

Why they bloom

The garden is a mess right now. This happens every year: we plant in the spring with so much hope and intention, weeding and watering and scouting for sprouts, delighting when the potential we buried in that soil rewards us with growth. It’s such a tangible thing, gardening, and so simple in those early days: water, weed, repeat. And then it gets more complicated: thinning the seedlings, staking the peas, caging tomatoes. After that, the questions begin: To pull the suckers or not to pull the suckers? Why are all these zinnias and cosmos and garden balsam growing where I planted only bush beans? What in the world is this pox of a weed that replicates with furious multiplicity? Why are the tomato roots growing so shallowly? Next it’s time for assault by insects. How do I remove squash bug eggs from zucchini leaves without damaging them? Is that seriously a hornworm on the grapevine? What can I safely spray on aphids? I HATE JAPANESE BEETLES. Then the harvesting: what do I do with seven thousand curly mustard greens? How can I use all of these tomatoes before they froth and ooze all over the countertop? Why doesn’t anyone want any of the 12 zucchini that all ripened within the past 48 hours?

There’s so much learning that happens throughout this process, which is wonderful, but it’s also just SO MUCH WORK. And it’s positively heart-rending when squash borers show up and massacre in their messy and most unpleasant way, when the deer lay waste to crops in minutes that they’d ignored for months, when the cucumber leaves turn yellow and then brown literally overnight. These disappointments are counteracted by gardening success stories, of course: for instance, this year the brown turkey fig was so prolific that we all ate as many of those sweet little jewel-bags as we could, then I made jam, and still there are dozens more on the way. This, after two years of the little tree growing lots of hard little green figs, only to drop all of its fruit before any ripening had a chance to occur–what a surprise to find it flourishing in this, the weirdest year ever! The grapes, too, gave us bountiful bunches, and we even got a handful of blackberries over the course of many weeks. But the stars of the garden, I think, are the volunteers.

This year, our cast of volunteers wasn’t limited to the flowers flourishing where I hadn’t planted them; we also had volunteer tomatoes, basil, lettuce, tomatillos, and exactly one cantaloupe vine, which came up late in the game. These were all children of last year’s plants, seeds that overwintered where they’d fallen, the seasons all having happened to them while they waited for that final frost to pass. These are the seeds that survived, that withstood the slings and arrows nature flung their way, holding within them a spark of their future selves. These were the proto-plants self-selected to LIVE. The word “volunteer” comes from the Latin verb “velle”, which means “to want.” Sure, we’re talking about seeds, but whoever chose the word “volunteer” for these plants recognized some kind of volition, at least etymologically. Does this make these plants predisposed to be hardier or healthier, considering the harrows they’ve endured to make it to the moment they could finally put down roots? Does this mean that they’ve earned themselves a garden plot by virtue of their horticultural fortitude? Is proof of life warrant enough to grant them space to grow?

I don’t know, but I’m glad I let the garden take itself over a little. I finally realized that the prosperous flower patch was likely the work of our backyard birds, who feasted on the seeds nested inside petals last fall then sat on our fence to chitchat and defecate directly into the raised bed underneath. Perhaps the capsule of fertilizer that accompanied these seeds to the ground is the reason the flowers grew to six feet and have bloomed for three months, but I have to say: any seeds that have passed through the digestive tract of a bird deserve some respect. I mean, the gizzard is basically a rock tumbler of an organ, so those little seeds that made it through are the American Ninja Warriors of the garden, and I’m going to let them flex their survival muscles in hopes that next year a third generation of volunteers will poke their little green crowns through the surface of the soil. And I will say to them that their parents went through a lot to give them life, that being a volunteer means more than just saying, “I’ll do it.” It’s not just about giving, it’s about wanting to give. It’s about facing things like a hard freeze, a drought, a gullet and two rough stomachs. It’s about a lot of patience and waiting for good timing, fighting for space and light, incorporating resources in ways that favor health. I will say to them that I watched their parents strive, literally in some cases bending over backwards, to find a way to bloom. I watched them bloom, and why did they bloom? For you.

Dad jokes: not just for dads

Arlo, using a pair of toddler safety scissors to try to open his yogurt tube: “This isn’t working!”

Alison, opening the drawer for the utility kitchen shears commonly known as “my scissors”: “Here, buddy, try these. Those little scissors just aren’t going to cut it.”

I might have been the only one laughing at that one.


Alison, trying to get people to perk up in the morning when feeling significantly sub-perky myself: “Hey, guys, I have a joke! How do you know that Cecil (our pet bunny) is always listening to us?”

Them: “How?”

Alison: “He’s all ears!”

(They didn’t get it.)


Cecil had been trying to mark the sofa as his territory (god forbid we humans own any part of the downstairs anymore), and we’d been enforcing a new “no bunnies on the sofa without people on it too” policy to avoid territorial deposits of both liquid and solid form. One night, he kept trying to hop on up, only to have Brian scoop him to the floor repeatedly. Cecil wasn’t happy about this. Brian: “He’s so p!ssed off. Literally!” Alison: “Yeah, no sh!t.”

This time there were actually two people amused. Cecil? Not so much.

Wrong number

A year or so after I graduated from UVA, I moved to rural Connecticut and worked in a publishing house and then a junior boarding school, met my husband, and had our first baby. Those tristate New England environs were so remote that it was about an hour’s drive to anywhere nationally recognizable (think DMV, Target, any chain grocery store), and we frequently had to leave the state to source things that seem pretty basic from an urban perspective. This is why I currently own three items procured from Pittsfield, MA: my engagement ring, my wedding ring, and my mobile number (area code 413 to this very day!).

Not long after setting up my first cell phone (I was very late in the game in owning one of those because there was no cell tower that serviced our little town until soon before we moved back to VA), I started getting phone calls and texts from people looking for the person who previously possessed my phone number. But these weren’t your run-of-the-mill old friends with outdated records or telemarketers or crowdsourcing cold calls; no, these were people either looking to buy drugs or looking to make a lockup.

The name “Stephanie Danforth” sounds like a litigator in a John Grisham book, right? Or a private investigator starring in a series of books published in the 80s and 90s? Well, this Stephanie Danforth, the woman who used my digits before they were mine, appears to be quite a different kind of colorful character. I’d get texts saying things like “hey you holding” or “I’m in for some when u got it” and repeated phone calls from collection agencies looking to track her down for past due payments. I got several calls stating, “This is your final reminder to appear in court on [whatever date] at [whatever time]. Failure to comply with subpoena will result in your losing your right to testify.” Plenty of laypeople called, too, sometimes late at night with nightclub beats thudding in the background to the point that I had to shout, “THIS IS NOT STEPHANIE’S PHONE NUMBER ANYMORE!”

Why didn’t I change my number, you ask? Well, I thought all of this would end after a few weeks. Or months. It did not. And by then, it just seemed like too much trouble when we were about to move anyway. At first, I found all of it annoying. Then it started to fascinate me. Who IS this person? (A google search turned up nothing.) And HOW does she keep avoiding being apprehended? She’s like my very own Carmen San Diego for the 21st century, and I developed a strange respect for her ability to float along under the radar. Now, over a decade later, I haven’t gotten any calls or texts meant for Steph in a long time, and I don’t exactly miss them, but it was nice once in a while to be able to say, “You have the wrong person–I’m not the one you’re trying to arrest or shake down or meet up with to make an illegal exchange!” There was something gratifying about being purely self-righteous, even to a stranger, maybe especially to a stranger. Saying, “I didn’t do it! Not guilty!” and knowing that was completely, empirically true, was oddly liberating.

I still wonder about Stephanie and what’s happened with her. Is she alive? Did justice ever prevail against her misdoings? How old is she and what does she look like? For the purposes of wrapping everything up in a little bow, as we have every right to do when we’re making up stories, here’s what I hope: that Stephanie Danforth, having seen the error of her ways, abandoned her life of crime along with her old cellular plan, used all the money she’d saved from selling coke to buy a motorcycle, and rode it all the way from Pittsfield to Playa Del Carmen, where she worked her way up to manager at a popular crab shack and now teaches surfing pro bono to underprivileged youth. She, too, recently turned 40, and spent the day on the beach with her German Shepherd, Soldedad, drinking Palomas by the pitcher and reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography until it was too dark to see.

Steph, if you’re out there, please call me (you know my number). I have so many questions.

A scarcity but an abundance

A few days ago I wrote about the inclination to make use of what might otherwise be discarded and how that impulse feels magnified these days. It makes me think of a conversation I had with my friend Janie, who introduced me to the term “scarcity mindset”. As soon as I heard those two words together, something clicked: finally, a tidy phrase to express a phenomenon I’d been thinking about for a long time. This might not be the textbook take on the term, but my interpretation is this: it’s so easy to feel a lack. This is especially true when we’re experiencing a loss of control or are otherwise weakened by circumstances or emotions (sound familiar?). We see it in our kids all the time: over Labor Day weekend, Arlo gleefully learned how to ride a two-wheeler, enjoyed his last swim in a pool for the summer, had a ton of fun at a cookout with our pod family, visited his grandparents and aunt and cousin from a little distance, ate homemade donut holes and blueberry muffin bites, played a Star Wars video game he loves with his dad and siblings three mornings in a row, fell in love with a favorite book series again, and won Dogopoly (yes, Monopoly but with dogs) even though his siblings played his turn for him for the final hour. And yet what he focused on in that “night before school” transition time (when of course his parents are trying to summon just that last scrap of patience before bedtime) was that a playdate (remember those?) he’d been wanting to have hadn’t materialized. He has, he has, he has, he has. And then he notices something he has not. Sure, the kid’s five, and this is completely normal and predictable. But it’s hard when we’ve given so much and invested so much energy to bring joy and then encounter disappointment. Wasn’t that enough, child? More than enough, in fact? Yes. Yes, it was. But also it wasn’t.

We all feel like this: we have enough, or more than enough, but we’re still missing things, and the things that aren’t there are ironically so noticeable, so easy to pinpoint. And that’s ok. We shouldn’t feel guilty (even though I do sometimes) for mourning omissions or losses, even small ones, because by recognizing them, we can pay them respect. But then we also have to pay respect to the positive space counterposing that negative space so everything balances out. I have to remind myself to feel grateful about something when I’m feeling ungrateful, just to keep equilibrium in check, and what’s funny is that it almost always works: I can’t volunteer in the school library this year, a job I loved and have enjoyed for years. But next year I can. I can’t hug my beloved niece and baby nephew. But they live in town and I can see them in person only six feet away. I can’t know how much longer my kids are going to be able to go to school. But they are there right now and this is a gift. I can’t pick up my friend’s daughter from her school and take all four kids out for ice cream on the way to gymnastics like we used to do every Wednesday. But soon.

I think “scarcity mindset” also speaks to a tendency to stockpile things lest we should find ourselves facing a scarcity later on. Take, for example, the toilet paper panic last spring, or the price gouging on active dry yeast, which was so extreme at one point that I decided to make my own with raisin sugar. “Fear of running out” is a cousin of “aversion to waste”, and I suppose both of these compulsions are entirely understandable considering the giant question marks overshadowing so many aspects of our lives, especially those first couple of months of the pandemic when no one wore masks but everyone wore gloves, when we weren’t ever sure what would be in our grocery bags until we unpacked them 72 hours later or sanitized them all in our driveways. I did things like order a dozen of every kind of eggs inventoried on the grocery store website a month before Easter, thinking that there would likely be a shortage, and then was surprised to find each and every dozen (there were a dozen dozens) in my bags. (Aside: many quiches and omelets and meringues with lemon curd later, I can honestly say that every single egg was consumed except for the few hard boiled ones that we left sitting in dye baths overnight to try to get those Easter colors supersaturated.)

I should add that I bought all of those eggs thinking I would get maybe three dozen total, but I also entertained the thought that if I did end up with an abundance, I’d give them to people wanting to dye eggs with their kids when there actually was a shortage (I thought this would happen about a week or two before Easter). I fancied myself a kind of 2020 Easter Bunny, happy to hop in the car and deliver pre-sanitized eggs to all of my parent friends wanting to maintain this tradition for their kids amidst the dissolution of other plans they had for this holiday. Needless to say, that shortage never happened, (and no one I knew wanted my extra eggs), but this provides an interesting study of the interplay between the scarcity mindset and its counterpoint, the abundance mindset. I thought, “I’m afraid we won’t have enough” but I also thought, “If I have a lot I can share.” In all of those moments, when we’re worrying about “not enough” or feeling the “I can’t”s about all of this, I hope we can begin our next sentences with “but”. (I’m fully aware that your teachers told you not to do this. Do it anyway.) I can’t know when life will feel more normal again, whatever that even means anymore. I can’t help missing seeing my kids’ classrooms and talking to their teachers across a desk instead of across the miles via Zoom. I can’t believe all the things we couldn’t do this past summer. I can’t imagine how Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas are going to work. But I do know I’m not alone in any of this, which makes it all okay. Oh, and I also know some good ideas for what to do with a surplus of eggs if you somehow come into possession of 144 of them.

Trash Treats

You know the cereal dust left in the bottoms of the bags after the last Cheerio or Mini Wheat has been excavated and added to a bowl of milk? I used to roll it all up inside the bag and throw it away. Isn’t that what everyone does? I mean, what else are you going to do with that stuff?

For me, that last question has become less rhetorical than it once may have been. In fact, the whole concept of waste has taken on a different dimension these past months, and though I’m naturally predisposed to avoid basically every kind of waste, as the weeks comprising March and April unfolded, the urgency of “making use” loomed larger than usual. This inclination is as old as time, of course; some of the most innovative and resourceful civilizations live by the practice, if not the necessity, of making full and complete use of what’s at hand. The notion of “nose to tail” (or “fin to scale”), by which we utilize every part of the animals that die for the sake of feeding us, is a beautiful thing. Not only does it dignify the loss of life and glorify the being incarnate now departed, it makes a whole lot of sense from the standpoint of economy. With plant-based matter, this can hold true too–why compost the corn husks after shucking if you can dry them flat and see what happens when you take some magic markers to their corrugated surface? (Pair this with a lesson on papyrus!) Why ditch that bag of stale Pirate’s Booty when you can use some dental floss to string it up like popcorn? (Pair this with a lesson on threading a needle and tying a double-looped knot!)

“Making use” can feel like a titillating challenge, if you’re at all like I am, by kindling the question “How can I manipulate this (whatever it is) to make it appealing and/or useful?” For example: Babybel cheese wax? Let’s make candles and learn how to strike a match. Clam shells left over from linguine night? We’ll bleach them and paint them and hang them on the Christmas tree. Coconut husks? Let’s drill holes, plant succulents inside, and hang them from a tension rod hung inside a window frame. Flannel nursing pads that never stayed in place and then wrinkled impossibly in the dryer? A little spray starch and a hot iron will turn those bad boys into throw rugs for the dollhouse. Carrot greens left over from making crudités? Pesto, presto!

It’s this mentality that’s caused me to bake things like kiwi bread (which I think is delicious, by the way) and mustard green and artichoke dip. It’s prompted me to try pulverizing freeze-dried fruit to use in place of cocoa powder, to blitz freeze-dried shiitakes and cauliflower for breading chicken tenderloins. It’s inspired me to write recipes like Laughing Cow Cheese Soup and Zucchini Potato Chip Frittata. All of this is a great exercise in creativity and prudence, and I appreciate that, but at times it feels like pressure to ensure that as little as possible goes to waste. “Waste not, want not” isn’t a watertight adage by any means, but maybe that’s a little bit of what’s behind all this; in a time when we have so many unmet wants with the onus of knowing that our kids do too, while we’re all in a constant state of energetic helplessness, we funnel a whole lot of effort into purposing and repurposing. It’s a microcosmic way that our brains and bodies can cooperate to impose some order, to make sense of things in a phase of time clothed in uncertainty: maybe, just maybe, by eliminating some waste we can eliminate some wants. True, the corollary of a theorem rarely proves out, but still: there’s no harm in finding a nutcracker to see if we can germinate those apricot pits; no harm in sautéing backyard-foraged clover for a pizza topping (Liam loved it!); no harm in crafting a fleet of eggshell sailboats, painting the calciferous hulls with expired nail polish, and staging regatta races from one side of the creek bridge to the other.

This brings us to my first installment of “Heal Thy Meal” (see top banner for my page on this!), which I’ve named Trash Treats (they’re Rice Krispie Treats but call for that aforementioned cereal dust in place of Rice Krispies):

Trash Treats

(makes about 12)

4 tbsp salted butter (or use unsalted and add a few grinds of salt)

6 ½ cups miniature marshmallows

~6 c. cereal dust from the bags of assorted cereals (shredded wheat, Kix, Crispix, Cheerios, Special K, Cornflakes, etc.)

Grease a 9-13 in. casserole dish or spray with cooking spray. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add marshmallows and stir until melted. Cut the stove and add the cereals. Mix to combine and press into casserole dish with buttered fingers, then cool slightly and cut into squares, or roll into balls with buttered hands while still warm (as in photo). Serving suggestion: pair with a glass of milk. (Or, for the adults in the room, might I recommend a chilled cup of eggnog?)

Grease the quiet wheel

There’s a 480-square foot carriage house apartment above our garage that we rent to a lovely redhead named Natalie (I chose her out of the several people who’d expressed interest in renting for several reasons, but mostly because she used a semicolon correctly a few times in our early correspondence, and that in and of itself is a recommendation). A few weeks ago she texted to say that her keyhole was jammed and she couldn’t get into the apartment. A mere hour or so later, a delightful character of a locksmith showed up on that Sunday afternoon, and after he cleaned the mechanism, he kindly offered a pragmatic bit of homeowner advice. He suggested that, twice a year or so, we spray WD-40 in all of the external keyholes at our home and lock and unlock the doors with the key a few times, wiping it on a rag in between twists in the doorknob, to prevent this problem from recurring. “These keyholes are like dirt magnets,” he said, “I don’t know why, but it’s like they’re asking for it.”

We recently we had our virtual parent-teacher conference with my son’s fourth-grade teacher (whom he described as “amazing” after the first day of school, by the way). She’s new to our school this year and didn’t know him at all, so we were trying to give her a little bit of history on him pertaining to his learning profile, social patterns, and past experiences in school. I was explaining how he’s one of those kids who doesn’t make a lot of negative noise; he doesn’t act up or break rules or complain or exhibit many outward signs of displeasure. He doesn’t clamor for attention in the ways many kids do, and, as a former teacher myself, I know how kids who need focused, pointed attention but don’t seem like they do can get a little lost sometimes. It’s the kids who cooperate, who are easygoing and friendly to everyone, who epitomize those famously pedestrian adjectives like “nice” and “good”and practice seemingly habitual pleasantness–these are the kids who are often easy to overlook, particularly when there are scads of others sneaking snacks and interrupting and showing off and poking each other and pilfering pencils and generally acting needy. Not until I experienced this from the perspective of a parent did I fully appreciate what’s really going on with the “easy” kids: they’re asking for attention by acting well. As a teacher, I remember discussing the dynamics among students in an effort to decide the configuration of classes, and these were frequently the “filler kids” we’d wait to place until we’d separated and doled out all of the troublemakers and red flags (as we called them…I realize this is probably not a diplomatic moniker). Then we’d fill the “easy kids” around them, like padding around live wires. Buffer kids. Little Switzerlands with their hands raised, never to call anyone a name or so much as tap a rule on the shoulder. Listen, my kid IS this kid. Practically his biggest rebellion in his ten years was voluntarily wearing Sunday underwear on a Thursday a few weeks ago (and I was so proud!!). 

Kids like my perennially happy-go-lucky Liam need to be noticed but they ask for it by not asking for it. In the conference with his teacher, when describing the way some kids display their needs vocally or behaviorally, I said, “You know; the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Long after I closed down Zoom and got up to shoo the bunny away from trying to chew the buttons off the TV remote, that idiom still rang in my head, and soon I realized why: it’s just like the advice from the locksmith. If you wait until the problem needs to be addressed, it’s already a problem. When we put energy into maintaining things that are operating as they should, when we are proactive about preventing future breakdowns or malfunctions, we’re taking out insurance against disaster. This is why we clean the gutters and remove dead trees before they fall. This is why we schedule oil changes to our cars and drive around with those little cling-stickers on our windshields that hover in our peripheral vision as a reminder. My conversation with the locksmith pressed one of those little stickers onto the periphery of my brain: just because it isn’t making noise or acting faulty doesn’t mean it doesn’t need something. In fact, it needs something NOW, and if administered in advance, we can prevent the wheels from squeaking and the locks from sticking.

I’m going to pick up my kids today and pay extra attention to that well-behaved little boy. The WD-40 is still out on the kitchen island to remind me. But first I’d better call some people because I don’t remember the last time I changed a single air filter, and it’s been way too long since we’ve had the ducts cleaned.