Angela Amman

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.

Walking on Stilts

Stoney Creek schoolhouse Walking on stilts takes practice.

I know this not because I attempted to walk on stilts during Abbey’s field trip, but because I helped a handful of kids try the tricksy game during their recess time before lunch.

The first time I helped Abbey, it was a struggle for both of us. Her little legs splayed into almost a split, which she found hilarious but completely ineffective for moving across the lawn. My arm muscles struggled to keep her steady.

Later, she tried again, better understanding how to lift and move and go forward a little at a time. We crossed the lawn together, until the satisfying clunk of stilts hitting the concrete sidewalk signaled we’d reached our destination.

She doesn’t always like practicing, trying the things that are hard, the things that take persistence instead of quick thinking or dreamy, roundabout ways to a solution. I understand, more than she knows, because I feel that impatient nagging when I’m faced with a solution that doesn’t come easily, quickly, or neatly.

It is, of course, a trait I wish I wouldn’t have passed along. I see those so quickly, the things she mirrors back to me that I wish I could change about myself, the way my eyes instantly land on the furrowed lines at my brow in this photo. I get stuck sometimes, wishing I could smooth those lines instead of focusing on our smiles, the ones that mean I got to experience something with my girl that she planned and anticipated and looked forward to for months.

I let myself be a little grateful I can relate to the impatience, the occasional reluctance to push through the complicated things. When I tell her, “I understand it’s hard,” I mean it — not the stilts themselves, but the obstacles.

I see her searching my eyes for one of those parenting falsehoods she’s slowly piecing together — fairies and magic and the reality of an Easter bunny hiding LEGO pieces inside plastic eggs.

I hold her gaze, and I see the moment when she knows I mean it. She sets her jaw and grips the stilts tighter, knuckles clenched around wood. Guiding her across the lawn, my arms so much less integral to her second attempt at the stilts, I vow to do a better job setting my own jaw and making my way across lawns that loom large in front of me.

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