Angela Amman

I wouldn’t trade the towels

The beginning of summer The neighborhood pool opened yesterday. We didn’t make it there Friday night, in part because of other plans, and in part because Michigan weather dictates that 86 degree weather one day in May calls for the balance of 66 degree weather another day.

Despite only slightly better weather, we knew we’d make it there Saturday. I thought we’d go fairly early, but I got wrapped up in a book. I told the kids to do something besides Minecraft while I finished a chapter — that turned into finishing the book — and they decided to make slime. Two containers of glitter and 1476 squirts of kitchen cleaner later, we finally packed one of our many summer bags and made it to the (slightly chilly) club.

We don’t belong to a fancy pool club with cocktails and waiters and poolside pedicures. (I made up that last part, because oh my goodness, in the direct sunlight my feet desperately cried out for a poolside pedicure.) We go to a pool with diving boards and swim lanes, tennis courts, and basketballs, and a playscape in the sand that all the moms groan at during the first few weeks and then become accustomed to gritty mudroom floors for the rest of the summer.

We’re only second-year members, and I can easily say it’s become a happy place for our family.

It’s also become a place where my children turn into towel-using monsters. Towels to spread on chairs and towels to wrap around goose-pimpled bodies. Towels to twist into hammocks and towels to wrap wet hair. Towels for post-swim showers and towels for no real reason except they’re touching the other wet, sandy towels in the pool bag.

I look at them for a moment as the kids traipse to bed, a heap of dampness I feel compelled to wash, though the kids would never notice if I just tossed them in the dryer instead. For some reason, I smile as I toss them in the washer, their damp weight heavier than I remember from last summer.

Not every day of summer will present itself in the idyllic filters of the first day at the pool. Someone will get left out of a game and someone will trip and fall and childhood sassiness will tumble out of mouths in surprising ways. I’ll feel stressed about working while they’re home and guilty about nearly everything, and they’ll fight one billion times in the inexplicable way siblings argue, with quick fuses and unspoken makeups.

Still, I wouldn’t trade that load of laundry for anything in the world.

They carry more than water and sand, those towels. They whisper the music of summer moments: ice cream melting in dishes as we settle in for a movie night, heads that sag against my shoulders, damp hair smelling of shampoo even while errant grains of sand seem to find themselves on scalps and under fingernails.

That pile of towels carries the promise of summer. They carry the memories we’re making, the ones that linger far after I’ve folded the last towel, warm and soft from the dryer.

Halftime

birthday letter to my daughter Dear Abbey,

We started the day with birthday waffles, piling sweet bits of chocolate and sprinkles and whipped cream onto waffles that soon resemble morning cake more than breakfast. My photos blur again and again. I need a new camera, true, but you’re animated and silly and utterly you when you’re home with us.

Later, we talked to you about the concept of “halftime,” this point in your life when you’re halfway to eighteen. You talked about it in the sense that you could basically make all of your own decisions, and my stomach hurt when I thought about the possibility that you’ll be making those decisions somewhere away from home.

The thing about this halftime birthday hides somewhere between the wispy outline of your future and the concrete reality of now, where we watch you grow and change a little each day. It’s impossible to explain to you that eighteen isn’t a magical age where decision making happens easily and cleanly; we need to do our best to let you make decisions all the time, balancing that with our desperate wishes to keep you smiling and safe and untouched by the messiness of missteps.

Nine feels magical, though, just like each of your birthdays exuded their own kind of magic. You love dancing, on stages and in the living room, in costumes, in character, and in a pair of shorts and old t-shirt from Vacation Bible School. I appreciate your moments on stage, of course, seeing the results of your concentration and practicing, but lately there’s something extraordinary about getting a glimpse of you dancing in the playroom on your own. You love music and movement so much, even without an audience to cheer you on.

I try to let you navigate your class projects on your own, even when I have to sit on my hands and bite my tongue. Still, as you worked on a character report this month, I loved chatting with you about A Wrinkle in Time. Your perspective made the story new again, and not in the abstract way children make everything seem fresh and new. We were able to really talk about the book and about bravery and fear, and I hope you and I will always find a way to connect about tough topics.

You’re kindest to your adoring brother when no one’s watching, and I’m in awe of your relationship with him. I hope you always love purple and glitter, singing loudly and laughing with your eyes squeezed shut. I hope you make silly faces and pick up slugs and worms even when you’re wearing something fancy.

One day I might figure out how to be the best mom I can be. I’m learning as we go, my love, and I know I make mistakes — and I know you’re getting old enough to see them. One thing I hope you always know is how immeasurably loved you are. You, Abbey Rose, are more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined in a daughter. May the second “half” of this amazing game be filled with love, laughter, and celebratory chocolate.

Love always,

Mommy

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.) 

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