Angela Amman

On buying shoes

pre-first Communion pedicures with my favorite girl

pre-first Communion pedicures with my favorite girl

I was 18 years old the last time I bought Birkenstocks. I spent my summer working in the shoe department at the department store formally known as Hudson’s, which was half my dream job and half a nightmare — access to all of that fabulous footwear teeter-tottering with having to help slide other people’s feet into shoes. My wardrobe teeter-tottered, too, wedges and crop tops in one breath, oversized flannel and the iconic Arizona Birks in the next.

At 18 years old, I didn’t know what my closet wanted to be when it grew up, let alone my whole person. I’m inching closer to 40, and I’m still not entirely sure about either of those things.

I’ve got a pair of Birkenstocks in my online shopping cart again, though I haven’t been able to click the purchase trigger just yet. I ditched oversized flannel 20 years ago, and I don’t plan on sliding into cut-offs this summer. This time, I’m thinking about buying them because I refuse to give up my workouts or my favorite wedges, and Googling “plantar faciitis shoes” made me cringe in horror.

Buying shoes purely for comfort feels foreign, and I can’t exactly reconcile it with… well… anything. When, exactly, did my feet grow up and start demanding support and responsible decisions? I thought we were still on the same page, and in my head, that page is filled with sky high heels and ridiculously flat flip flops for days when I’m rushing across the street to pick up the kids.

The past few months have turned a lot of my pages upside down; my grief expands and contracts at the strangest times, a new sort of normal bookended by memories and unbidden tears.

Six months ago, I would have told you I’d said good-bye to my 18-year-old self long ago. Eighteen was kind of the middle of bad decisions and halting starts and stops, poorly judged friendships and a poorly judged tattoo.

Losing my dad, though, thrust me forward in a way that made me think 18-year-old me wasn’t as far in my past as I thought. I still reach to call him when I need an adult perspective, I think about taking him banana bread when I make two loaves. I couldn’t breathe for a moment when I bought one less Father’s Day card this year.

As I think about the years between my first Birkenstocks and the pair waiting in my shopping cart, I wish I would have enjoyed 18 more, when I could slide on shoes and identities without much thought, when I never doubted I had a soft place to land.

A glimpse at the end of the school year

end of the school yearWhen the “Star of the Week” schedule came home at the beginning of the school year, he was appalled he’d have to wait until the end of the year for his turn. I explained that someone had to be last, secretly grateful not to have to hurry to put together a poster while we were still adjusting to a full day of school, to eating lunch in gulps and swallows, to a new way of life.

I glanced at the list at different times during the year, knowing how dates can creep up when you’re not looking. I didn’t want to be caught unaware, scrambling to find photos and poster board on a Sunday night. Each time, the date seemed comfortably far enough into the future that I didn’t worry too much about it.

He finally brought home the Star of the Week bag on a Friday, a bag containing the class pet and its adventure-chronicalling journal, a jar for an estimation game, and the intangible reminder that the end of the school year is approaching quickly.

I’d known it was coming, but diametrically it seemed both too soon and not soon enough.

This year looks different than I had expected when we were buying school supplies and talking about kindergarten last summer. I’m working more than I’d planned, in part because of a contract position that won’t last forever, a job that brings pride and anxiety for someone like me who has her calendar color-coded months in advance. Our house is unorganized, and I haven’t even had the time to put away all the gloves and hats, though flip flops and swim goggles are intruding on their territory.

April, and now May, came in a blink.

I feel caught by surprise, though I shouldn’t be. And though it came too fast, I find myself wishing the next few weeks away, yearning for days where I don’t have to make lunches and snacks and check bags to make sure they’re actually turning in the homework we do together at the island.

Before school started, I set up a desk in their playroom. It’s covered with LEGOs and pencils and craft paper, and I don’t remember the last time they did homework there.

I find it hard not to blame myself for the chaos.

Despite the disorganization and the missing snack bags surrounding our almost-end-of-the-year mood, Dylan reveled in his Star of the Week status. We tucked little Hoppy into bags and onto shoulders and chairs as we went to soccer games and t-ball games and the grocery store.

I worried we’d forget him, somewhere, but we never did. We manage, most days, to keep track of the things that matter. I’m still planning to rein in the chaos and rediscover a little bit of the organization that makes our home operate more smoothly.

Summer will be here soon, and there’s always time for fresh starts.

Making pizza and moving forward

losing a parentI made pizza today.

In and of itself, my pizza isn’t so impressive. I make a quick dough that involves yeast but doesn’t require rising time, and generally turkey pepperoni and mozzarella top the kid-friendly dinner. Still, I made pizza today, and it felt a little like turning a corner.

Today was the first day I really cooked dinner since my dad died suddenly, three weeks ago.

We’ve eaten, of course, some nights noshing on healthy meals dropped off by friends, other nights microwaving hot dogs and stirring together the Annie’s mac and cheese I slide out of the pantry. I made breakfast for dinner one night, which was really just waffles and some fruit.

Tonight, though, flour drifted onto my counters, and I deliberately added roasted garlic to the pizza dough, something I don’t always thinking about doing when I’m rushed and mindlessly making dinner.

Dylan cleaned the playroom a little while I cooked, and then used screen time to play some game he plays at school, though I’m not exactly sure what the point of it actually is. I pulled the pizza out of the oven — and remembered to turn it off — right before we left to pick up Abbey from dance, and she smiled at the scent of warm pizza the moment we opened the door to the house.

My heart couldn’t decide whether to constrict or relax as I glided around the island, pulling items and plates from familiar shelves with deliberation instead of relying on the muscle memory I used in those first few days, maybe the first couple of weeks after he died.

I haven’t done much canceling the last three weeks, though every day I’m tempted to turn off my alarm and sleep for four days. I’ve been keeping the kids’ routine steady, using the gym as motivation to get out of bed, working and moving and only falling as behind on the laundry as I do every other month.

And I’ve been crying in the car when I least expect it, when some wave of reality crashes through the barrier of busyness I’ve been building.

Tonight though, I made pizza, and my heart squeezed in my chest.

My mind argues I’m doing the right thing, but my hearts whispers “betrayal.”

The crying, the malaise, the exhaustion at the end of a busy day cut deeply, but they feel the way I imagined grief to feel. I don’t know what to do with grief that feels like warm dough rolling to the edges of a pizza stone, with grief that’s subsided enough for me to turn the refrigerator alarm back on because the sound doesn’t make me feel like I’m ready to shatter any longer.

I revisited something more than my favorite pizza dough recipe tonight, though. It’s also the first night I’ve been back in this space.

In some ways, writing feels a little like a betrayal, too. Looking for catharsis, arranging words and trying to find understanding and peace seems too small for something that’s pounded through our lives like an errant anvil dropped without worry about the consequences of its landing.

My words, even edited and distilled and placed in different places on different pages, cannot begin to do him justice.

Keeping my words tucked inside didn’t feel right, either.

So I made pizza, and I’m writing about turkey pepperoni and how I even wiped down the appliances with the stainless steel spray. I put words to paper — well, screen — and each of those deliberate acts feels like a tiny step forward into a world without one of my favorite people, a world of which I’m not ready to be a part.

I guess no one ever is.

The changing nature of coloring eggs

coloring eggs with kidsWe colored eggs for the first time on Abbey’s second Easter. On her first, she was barely able to flip from her back to her stomach, and we dressed her in a cuddly bunny onesie and cozy white pants.

For this milestone, this coloring of eggs, I dragged her little picnic table into our littler kitchen and spread brown paper bags underneath its legs. Each color dye filled a clear cup, the best way to see the eggs seeping into candy shades, and the most uniform way to photograph her first egg-dipping experience.

I stripped her to a white onesie, chubby legs bare, in an attempt to save her clothes from permanent stains.

I didn’t know then that very few things are permanent.

This year, during our coloring of the eggs, Dylan wore a Frozen t-shirt adorned with a smiling reindeer, and Abbey wore a rhinestone studded camouflage t-shirt she got as a favor from a friend’s birthday party. My dye cups didn’t match: lowball cups we registered for at our wedding and daisy-encrusted juice cups I finagled from my Grandma Rose’s house.

My dad remembers drinking out of them at their first home in Detroit, before they moved to the only house I ever knew to be my grandmother’s. She’s gone now, and I don’t remember drinking from the flowered cups at her dining room table, but I think of her each time we use them anyway.

We lost Ryan’s grandma last week, a woman who hugged me like she knew and loved me the very first time we met. She hugged me that same way each time I saw her, and we don’t always realize how important a hug can be until we know we won’t feel that exact grip again.

I hadn’t seen her since Christmas; the days and weeks slid into months, and a quarter of the year is already gone.

This year, the kids and I dyed eggs in the overcast light of a cold, spring day, and I didn’t worry about protecting our floor or our counters or their clothes from stains. They’re quick now, using fingers and spoons and wiping both on paper towels so the colors don’t bleed too much on the eggs, though all six of our hands were stained by the time we finished.

The color faded within a few hand washings.

Very little is permanent, and I’m beginning to wish for another chance to stain clothes, to breathe in their hair on this exact day, because tomorrow they might smell just a smidge older. I hug them tightly when I kiss them goodnight, three, four, eleven times, so grateful for the giggly grips of their hugs and the imagined hints of pink and green staining their nails.

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