Angela Amman

Seven

birthday letter

Dear Dylan,

Nipping at the heels of Christmas, your birthday sneaks up on us each year. Since you entered the hustle and bustle of elementary school last year, it seems even more stealthy. I take down the Christmas tree, nag you and your sister to put away the holiday gifts still lingering in the living room, and suddenly you’re moments away from being another year older.

Lately, everyone we see comments on how tall you’re getting. Yet all your limbs and laughter still curl into my lap when you feel like it, which can be during story time at night or while I’m volunteering in your class on Thursdays. Your logic and your heart collide all the time; an innate sense of justice crashing into your love of making people laugh.

You love Star Wars and LEGO (so much LEGO, all day, all the time), and you’ve taught me imaginative play doesn’t always look the way your sister showed me.

The breadth of your memory catches me off guard at times. We recently re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone together, a book you first listened to while flipped upside down on a bed or playing with toys during the longer chapters. Your eyes lit up as you talked about your favorite upcoming parts — your most loved scene is still Ron beating McGonagall’s chess game — and remembered small details I never would have expected.

Yet you rarely remember to turn off your bedroom light before barreling downstairs in the morning.

A few weeks ago, a friend came to your karate class with you. The raucous car ride produced so much laughter, so many inappropriate first grade jokes, and innumerable reminders not to hit each other, and I wondered if it had been a mistake to participate in bring-a-friend day. The two of you entered the classroom and immediately calmed, showing attention and respect the entire time.

Two seconds after you exited the room, someone made a fart joke. You raced each other on the indoor track and didn’t stop filling the car with noise until we dropped off your friend.

I have a million wishes for you, but one of the strongest is that you never lose sight of the joy you find in life. I hope you always weave together integrity and laughter, because those qualities will never steer you in the wrong direction. Happy seventh birthday, my cuddly, literal, kind-hearted, smart-as-a-whip little boy.

All my love,

Mama

The problem with trees

why I shouldn't have an artificial treeCertain people shouldn’t have artificial Christmas trees.

Back when we bought real trees, we knew what we were getting when we brought them home. Trunks might be slightly crooked or some areas a little sparser than others, but we purchased those trees after embracing the flaws—more often than not, soon after my hands seemed like they might freeze off in my mittens.

The first year we used our artificial tree, my eyes glittered with the ease of it all. No waiting in the cold. No stringing of lights. No worrying about keeping it watered. No constant vacuuming of dropped needles. I hung ornaments, manipulating branches to fit our larger ornaments instead of using those ornaments to fill empty gaps between the needles.

I grew up with real trees in the house, so the rules about ornament hanging echoed in my head: heavier ornaments near the back, large ones fill the gaps. The lightest, most delicate balls hovered near the top. Even after I figured out those rules didn’t exactly apply to artificial trees, my habits died hard, and I hung my ornaments in the same way I always did, enamored with how lovely the tree looked illuminated in the darkness.

The tree situation has grown more precarious.

First, we pull it out of whatever storage solution I’m trying. (Last year we purchased a giant, canvas bag that fits all of the trees sections and weighs more than Santa’s sleigh.) I put together the parts, doing my best to spread out the branches. I step back and begin analyzing the ways I can improve the spread of the limbs, the bending of each branch to maximize the fullness and minimize the empty space lurking between levels of branches.

Last year I insisted on keeping the ornaments unhung for at least 24 hours, wanting to see it in various lights, both lit and unlit, to make sure I was happy with how the branches looked.

I might have been a little overzealous last year.

This year, I put the pieces of the tree together before the kids came home from school. Abbey squealed when she saw it, lighting it immediately and asking to put on ornaments. I tried to be patient, explaining we’d have to spread out the branches before adding anything. We worked together for a while, until she grew tired of the task and started teasing me.

“Mama, you should love the tree the way it is! If I came out with crooked branches, you would love me just like that!”

We found a section of lights that wasn’t working. I could see the receding daylight shining between certain sections of branches. I pulled the piano bench over to mess with the higher branches for the second time.

Eventually, I capitulated and brought the ornaments up from the basement. I tried to remember that if we would have purchased the tree from a lot or cut it down from a farm, we would have had to accept its flaws; we wouldn’t have had the chance to tuck and poke at it until it looked just right.

It’s not completely decorated yet, because we were running in two different extracurricular directions that night. Already, though, I can see they’ve hung more than the “few” ornaments they wanted to do before running out the door. I already see definitive sections, obviously hung by each child. Spacing appears haphazard, non-existent in places.

I struggle to let go of details at times, wanting to fit in just one more thing, make something just a little neater, a little straighter. This tree, this year, reminds me it’s ok to relinquish control.

With the lights on and the room dark, it’s the most beautiful thing in the house.

(I actually wrote this post a few weeks ago and kind of got distracted. ‘Tis the season, right? The tree is, in fact, fully decorated at this point. It’s still my favorite thing.) 

Embracing our snow day

time out We all need a pause button lately. The four of us are running around like crazy, sliding schedules together with eyes squeezed tightly, crossing our fingers that we somehow end up where we need to be on time. Days before February draws to a close, we’re being forced into a little bit of a break. Snow tumbled to the ground today, flakes so large I could hear them fall against the window next to where I was working.

Abbey ran from school in a flurry. Icy flakes coated her hair by the time she reached me, snow pants on, gloves and hat in her bag, an impatient shake of her head when I handed her the hat.

Breathless, she named the litany of things they could do to increase their chances of a snow day: pajamas inside out and spoons under pillows, ice cubes flushed and crayons on windowsills.

They needed have worried. The district cancelled school for tomorrow long before I began making dinner. I filled mugs with cocoa and marshmallows when they wandered in from playing in the snow. The fresh air would hopefully counter the infusion of sugar so close to bedtime.

It’s our first snow day of the year, so close to March we can see it. Yesterday, I wore sunglasses and left my coat in the car when I walked into the dance studio.

They still wanted to wear their pajamas inside out tonight, and I — of course — said yes. Michigan weather is tricksy, but we’re embracing it, grateful for the pause button pressed on our week.

Unexpected moments in the morning

mornings with kids

Reading on the couch? That’s one of my favorites.

Mornings are not my favorite — even on the best mornings, when my fingers don’t fumble for a later alarm and I manage to accomplish a run while still getting all the lunches made. Even the best mornings involve some sort of rushing, sometimes from the kids and sometimes from me, particularly in the winter when gloves know you’re late and hide in random corners with Lego pieces and empty Tic Tac containers.

They don’t like the cold, either.

We had a not-best morning last week. On those, even my most practiced, steady effort can’t hide my frustration, and I feel the clutch of defeat in my chest as I reach for their hands to cross the stress. Some mornings like that end in tears, quiet ones pooling in eyes and lodging in my memory long after frustration floats away on the wind.

Last week, the not-best morning offered a gift as the almost-frozen garage door creaked open. The sky, caught at exactly the right moment between dawn and sunrise, greeted us in layers of sherbet shades — pinks and oranges none of us had expected.

We stopped walking, suspended in awe and frigid air at the top of the driveway.

“Oh. The sky,” one of us said, and I don’t remember who or if we even spoke it aloud.

We stared, hands together, and the heaviness of the imperfect morning lifted.

I didn’t hurry them across the street.

Our feet moved forward, cautious by habit on the icy buildup near the curb. Their cheeks had pinked by the time we reached their respective doors, and with the sherbet sky overhead, I took an extra moment with each goodbye kiss — mittened hands on the sides of their faces and full eye contact and smiles.

I saw them, the way we all saw the sky: beautiful and perfect and unexpectedly complicated. I yearned for them to see me, too, to feel the apology for trying to rush them, to feel how much I love when they linger in my sight.

If we had been on time that morning, we could have missed that exact painted sky.

I need to remember not to miss the pink skies; they won’t always be there for me to see, a gloved hand nestled in each of mine.

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