This morning is a take apart day in day care. The kids are older and love to save their work. The saving shelf and adjacent table are covered with constructions: Duplo worlds, Mobilo and Duplo Toolo vehicles, trains made of Duplo pieces and full of animals.

My five wonders where all the Mobilo pieces have gone. We talk about the saving shelf, about needing a take apart day, which we’ve begun to do on Fridays in honor of Yvonne whose classroom at Central Park East when I was a Teachers College student teacher introduced me to week long block building projects for three to sixes and to the energy of group clean up on Friday afternoon.

I suggest the five ask his friends if he could take apart their buildings. He asks his friend the three to do the asking, I suggest they can ask together, and they begin with Anne the teacher. I suggest they ask the older children. The first one they ask is our almost five who says she doesn’t care about her buildings and the two friends can take them all apart. No one else registers the question at all, so off go the builders to the project room.

We talk about where the second set of Mobilos has gone. I gave it to a new provider, have some regret, but hope her children are enjoying it and acknowledge how many other toys we have here. The builders agree. We have so many building toys.

I join the two friends on the floor of the project room where they are not so much taking apart as building as they do most days they are here together. I offer to take apart the other bits from the saving shelf and table and windowsills and shelves nearby and they are happy for my company.

I disassemble as they build, til the bins of Mobilos and Toolos and Duplos are replenished, remembering sifting through bins full of parts for my own kids when they were small, looking for the special legos and Playmobil pieces as they constructed their worlds.

But today, my young friends and I talk about my nephew to whom I had given the second set of Mobilos one Christmas when he was young and whose mother offered them to us when he grew up.

What is a nephew? My three wants to know.

My sister’s son.

The two boys build and talk. A one joins in, does his mechanically minded thing, climbs into and out of his low booster seat, fastens and fusses with the buckle, puts a doll in and out.

A nearly two joins and putters around the room, sits beside me and the bucket of Duplo Toolo I’ve been working on, and puts the screwdriver into the holes of the Toolo wheels, turns and turns, gets another one from the table next to us, shows it to me, looks in my eyes, says screwdriver, and awaits my confirmation.

It’s so calm and peaceful I decide to write about it here, remembering a conversation yesterday with a friend about our old homes and taking care of them, about my family’s history of mechanical mindedness, of my brother and his skill and facility and speed with plumbing, and I’m grateful for this day and for the time to be with my little people as they explore the mechanical world, create tall ladder fire trucks, negotiate with older and younger kids, create the worlds of their individual and shared imaginations, concretely, jointly, in company and in real life.


On Friday my six told me it was her dad’s birthday. I wondered how her family would celebrate. She had made her dad a card and an origami something. I remembered aloud that I had made my dad a gift when I was six, a set of bowling pins made of salt dough clay and painted. My three wondered where they were now. They got left somewhere, I said, feeling the tightness welling up in my throat. My six wondered how, and where. Somewhere, I said, knowing inside, but not saying, that they had been left in the hospital room where my father had died. How come? My six persisted. My mother didn’t collect them, I said, she must have forgotten, as I got up to microwave more carrots in the pantry for my one, who couldn’t manage the crunchy carrots my six preferred.

In the pantry, I choked back tears, again, for the small bowling set I had made in the classroom at the suggestion of my first grade teacher when my father was hospitalized for the last time, which I had asked my mother about once my father was gone, and discovered had been left behind when she or others had collected my father’s things. For years I imagined that set on the windowsill of a hospital room and wondered if I might get it back, had imagined the size and shape of it, can still see it now in its dimpled  and pocked salt dough clay form, shaped by my six year old fingers, painted over with white paint, and red to ring the necks of the pins, the small balls poked with something to make the thumb and finger holes so familiar to the daughter of two bowlers.

Mostly, I can tell the children in the day care about my father. When they ask questions I can answer directly. Where is your father? He died. When? When I was six. What happened? He had cancer. Oh.  The questions tend not to go beyond that. Young children are stunned enough to hear of a father dying when a child is only six. Even they are stopped in their tracks from asking more, or they haven’t the imagination to wonder beyond the death. What was it like to live without a father isn’t something they have ever asked. If they had, I don’t know what I might have answered. Sad. Hard. Never ending.

Today I attended the memorial service of the father of my daughter’s friend. The daughters are young women, maybe sixteen and twenty or so. My daughter’s friend arrived in green hair and a short black dress, black leggings, smiling, sat up front on one side of her blond mother while her dark haired sister in a long black skirt and blouse and sweater sat on the other. My sister and I had been so much tinier at four and six. I have no idea what we wore.

The girls read poems, a Wendell Berry for the younger one, a more sober one for the older, which she announced as one of her father’s favorites. Two cousins of the father shared stories of his life from childhood to four year bout of cancer. His wife talked of first encountering her husband thirty two years ago, of how astonishingly handsome he had been, and intimidating, and how she had later learned he had found her intimidating as well. She described him in his fullness, in their life together, in his interests and passions, in his role as family man, intimate, whimsical, playful, and I thought of my father, who I have always remembered as a fine family man, intimate and playful, if not whimsical. As this mother described the way her husband worked throughout his illness to leave things right for his family, including his last trip out of the house, to Home Depot, where he bought a step ladder so his younger daughter could change the lightbulb on the porch, I thought of the addition to our home my father and mother planned and had built during the years of his three year illness and of the memory I have of him showing me his camera as we stood in front of our house, telling me someday it would be mine. He never told my mother, but she believed me and I have it.

After the services, while my daughter and her friends embraced her friend, I stood at the side of the room and watched the slide show projected on one wall, the father featured in photo after photo from young child to ill dad, embracing my daughter’s friend, revealing the war torn forearms of a man with cancer about to die. The man beside me asked if I knew Jack. I let him know I did not, that my daughter was his daughter’s friend, but that it didn’t matter. The service was so beautiful I was honored to be present.

On the walk to the car my daughter told me how pleased she was she’d come. She had visited another friend over the weekend who happened to be this friend’s next door neighbor and best friend. My daughter knows them from different places and this was the first time she’d seen them together. Today they had made plans to go dancing. But first the friend whose dad had died was getting on an airplane with her mother and sister, flying to someplace warm, so they could relax together away from home. We were both happy we had come, surprised to find how many others there were known to us from our Quaker connections, and for my daughter, from Mass Art.

The service, full of music, poetry, stories, even a reading from Arctic Dreams which I hope to read because of the passage, left me restored. Last night I was home alone on a dark and rainy night. Both my children had been out and I’d come home from work at the end of the day, eaten a bowl of leftover rice and eggs and vegetables topped with soy sauce and sesame oil, made myself some tea, put myself on the couch with a book and some clementines, and began to feel morose, midlife style, sad about my daughter spending her high school years in boarding school rather than at home, sad about being a longterm divorced single mom, left again by one I’d loved, sad about being on a budget and having been so long, sad about the approach of my day care colleagues’ retirement and the loss of the companionship we’ve had the years I’ve run my day care, sad about being single and being in the house alone again.

As sad and morose as I was, I had also talked a long time with an old friend and texted with my mom. I had a good book to read, a gift from my son, who knows me well. My daughter was due home. My son was off on an adventure he could hardly wait to begin. My life is beginning to take new shape, bit by bit and day by day. At bedtime a friend sent just right songs to cheer me up, my daughter came home and kissed me on the head before tucking herself in, and I read a chapter or two of my novel under the covers before turning out the lights. In the morning, I made time for my proprioceptive writing practice, which  began again to turn the tide. But it was the memorial service that restored my soul, the room full of deep solace, everyone dressed carefully, the minister and his songs and prayers, even his eulogy, which my daughter and I found wise, somewhat unexpectedly, and the family and friends and their stories and experience of love and dedication, creativity and care, the image of a well-loved and loving human, gone, yet still with us, honored, held up for all of us to see, whether we knew him in life or not.

The new routine for my daughter and me is to wake up at 5 on Monday morning and drive in the dark to Beverley, with a cooler bag of food and whatever bags of possessions are headed back to my daughter’s dorm for the week loaded into the trunk. On Fridays she takes the train home. Tonight I’m home in a dark house, having had a very good day, despite being tired from poor sleep and an early wake up and a busy weekend, feeling the back to boarding school blues.

My daughter was diagnosed at 16 and a half, at last, with dyslexia. We found out about The Landmark School as a result of her diagnosis. She attended the four week summer program in July, was offered a spot and a scholarship as a boarder for fall, and decided in August to take the leap, really not so much a leap, as the only option we could imagine would work for her at this point in her life.

Last year she left Sudbury Valley to try Cambridge Rindge and Latin. That was also an August decision, not an easy one, as she loved her Sudbury Valley world, but she must have known she needed to try something else. She tried public high school, began as a freshman even though she hoped to be a sophomore, worked very hard, endured rounds of testing in and out of school to try and understand why so many things weren’t working,  and eventually returned to Sudbury Valley after February vacation, where she had always imagined she would finish school, as her brothers had.

But that was not to be. A sixteen year old who can’t comfortably read a novel doesn’t belong in Cambridge Rindge and Latin Honors English, where my daughter was sent to the library with headphones and a book on tape while her classmates discussed the book. She doesn’t belong at Sudbury Valley, either, as we couldn’t imagine how to figure out the level of support and tutoring she would need outside of school in order to learn the things she wasn’t able to learn thus far.

We hadn’t planned on boarding school. We hadn’t planned on Sudbury Valley, either, but that was what our kids needed at the time. I had thought my children would grow up in public school, that I would watch them play sports on the local fields and perform in concerts and plays on the stage of the local auditorium, that I would do these things alongside the parents of their childhood friends. I imagined running for the School Committee, attending parent conferences and advocating for changes in the public schools to make them more progressive.

Instead, I’ve watched as my kids have moved into worlds where I can barely follow. First they commuted each day to Sudbury Valley in Framingham with carpools, other teens, and then each other, one year three days a week with me when I was staff there. Then one moved on to college in Upstate New York, then to New York City for work. Then the other moved on to college in downtown Boston, then home, but to live a fairly independent adult life of work and performance in the evenings and to be home during my time at work. Then the third moved to boarding school, where I do drop off in the dark, attend an occasional conference or parent meeting, but mostly am invisible.

At boarding school students do their homework in the dorm with house parents and residential staff support. They eat their meals in the cafeteria. They make weekend plans by text with parents who e-mail those plans to Residence Life. They do their own laundry in machines that require quarters, and shower in stalls lined up against the wall. They don’t leave their makeup and hairbrushes on the bathroom counter or their dishes  in the sink at home. They don’t hog the shower or allow you to come in and brush your teeth while they bathe. They aren’t home, except every other weekend, or a little more, if I’m lucky.

On top of having missed half my children’s childhoods since 2009, when their dad and I split up, it’s a lot to take. And yet, it’s what is. When we have a child with special needs, we do what it takes. When we have a child, as I talked about with my old friend as I visited her and her newborn this afternoon, we do what it takes. We get up in the middle of the night and barely sleep. We send our children to schools we never dreamed of because that is what they need. We miss them even as we are ecstatic to have found a place that does what we didn’t know could be done.

Sudbury Valley made my children so incredibly happy, at times in their lives when they had begun to struggle terribly. I remember friends and family saying the difference they could see in their faces, their bodies, their demeanor. Their true selves returned. They were happy, joyful, engaged, at home in themselves. Until they had to leave, one for college at seventeen, one for college at nineteen, one for public high school at fifteen and special education boarding school at sixteen.

It’s a miracle when children who aren’t thriving begin to thrive, when a child who has no social circle makes a group of friends, when a child who is bored to tears finds a place where he can explore his passions, when a child who feels stupid finds again that she has strengths and can learn, when a child at nearly seventeen first begins to find a love of books. As much as I miss them and being part of their worlds when they’ve found their places further and further from home, I can’t argue with the decisions or the benefits.

Which causes me to be very, very clear about my role as their supporter. When we find the place that works, we make it happen if we can, find a way to come up with the money, to get them there, or to live without them at home. Parenting stretches us that way, teaches us our limits and our potential in ways few other roles I’ve experienced can.

So tonight, I’m sad. My daughter was home extra long, here and there over her week and a half vacation, then back from Wednesday through this morning because of snow days Thursday and Friday and her dad being sick during this weekend when she was meant to be with him.

I imagine friends in their kitchens making dinner while their children do their homework. I put on Joni Mitchell’s Blue, clean the kitchen, preheat the oven to bake chocolate chip cookies for myself and for my son who will be home later tonight, light a candle, heat my barley tea, and write, sort out my feelings of sadness and gratitude here again, a place I first called home the year Ben left public school for Sudbury Valley and I imagined making a school of my own. This blog has supported me in shaping my story through all the changes that followed, separation and divorce, two longterm relationships, various attempts at starting schools and understanding my place in the worlds of education and care, sorting out emerging spiritual beliefs and artistic wishes, watching my children grow and change and become their teenage and young adult selves while I also changed and learned over and over again how to be a mother, a person, and to find a way to be at ease in the world and in my changing home and life.

Thank you writing, for helping me make and shape my story and for guiding me through so much tumult in these last ten years. And thank you, Joni, for keeping me company in a quiet house again tonight.

Little Green for you:)

Today, January 5th, my oldest child turns 23. Jeez! He is in New York, working at the office or from home. I don’t know what the weather is like there today, but yesterday he worked from home, which I discovered by interrupting with a call.

Life at 51 is surprisingly wide open, and somewhat predictable. Having grown and nearly grown kids, one living on his own in New York, one at home part time who is working and performing and doing creative work, and one in boarding school who is here many weekends or part of them, I find myself on a journey. Awhile back there was an article in the New York Times about happiness and how it peaks in the 50s and 60s when we still have good health, we may be making peace with whatever we did or did not accomplish, have, or do in the first half of our lives, and we realize we have years ahead to live, when many of us will be able to more fully shape our own days.

So, today it’s sunny and cold. The snow shoveling and snow blowing the kids and tenant and I did yesterday held, other than some drifting and the pile left by the plow at the end of the driveway, so I’m tackling desk work, reminded of how my attention drifts when I sit still, I find myself texting, checking and writing e-mails, reading stuff online, now writing, rather than continuing on with check deposits, bill paying, data entry, bookkeeping, and tax prep. All that will come, but today, at least I’ve spread out the papers and have completed a few of the tasks.

Yesterday was for the storm..for moving things and being inside the shelter of our home with my kids in hibernation mode, then for shoveling after dinner, then a movie, Happy People, A Year in the Taiga, which my son and I had seen years ago and told my daughter about earlier in the day when we were all reluctant to venture out into the storm, and which my daughter wanted to see after we’d braved the wild. Her brother did most of the plowing, clearing the sidewalks and much of the driveway. She managed the machine for the first time, tackling the hardest part, at the end of the night in the dark, clearing the plow dump at the end of the driveway, heavy, deep, and slow. Both kids were careful and worked hard, and my back only hurt a little when I came in half an hour after they did, after finishing up the plowing, shoveling, refilling the gas tank, and tidying up. The housemate brought Isabel more almond milk from a trek to the store. We cleaned up the dinner dishes, made hot cocoa with marshmallows, and tucked ourselves into the tv room where earlier in the day I had put a rug from the basement to ward off the cold, and my daughter had spent a long  time with her lined notepad writing down ideas and making suggestions to me for how to redecorate and remodel.

I’m trying to be happy as things are, is what I let her know. Trying to be happy with the house and with myself, to follow my energy and trust things will work out, will get done, to give myself permission to do the things that make me feel good, like visiting with friends and kids, cooking, being outdoors, making music, reading, writing, rather than focussing so much on what I ought to or must do.

I also reminded her that finances are my energy seems to be the energy I’d need to get the work done, if work is getting done. But maybe this summer, when she comes home from boarding school, we agreed, we can work together, after a winter of dreaming of curtains and walls and rearranging and furniture and rugs.

Today its Johnny Cash Unearthed and tea and clementines and the first day with the beeswax candle Jonah gave me for Christmas from the holiday fair in Harvard Square. The maker gave him the advice to burn beeswax candles according to diameter, one hour per inch. Because this is a three inch candle, I should burn it for three hours, which I am sad to say, I may have done already, with little enough to show for it here in financial land. Time to blow it out, get up, move around, and see if the energy brings me back to the finances or somewhere need to torture myself if I’m getting nothing done.

This morning I wake up early, put on my long johns under the fleece pullover I got for Christmas a year or two ago and the fleece pants I got for my daughter this Christmas which she passed back to me, wool socks from my mom a few Christmases ago, my almost thirty year old down workhorse parka, and my Gortex pants, a pair of worn, but serviceable boots, my newish mittens, a cashmere scarf I bought myself on clearance from Garnet Hill awhile back, and a pretty green knitted hat from Target my son got me for Christmas one year which folks always think is hand-knitted. By eight or so, I was on the front porch with a bag of recycling I had put on the top of the stairs before heading up to watch tv and drink tea and eat cookies and watch our new favorite show with my daughter, who arrived home last night from school after only one day there, two snow days ahead. After two episodes of Family Tree, I fell asleep early under nicely washed covers, two old duvets, one covered in a white floral pattern I’ve had for years and brought back from Ashfield after a linen sort this summer, and one flannel covered in paper cranes I got from Garnet Hill on clearance a long while ago..all freshly washed and put on the bed in honor of the New Year, when I spent all of Friday at home, washing sheets and curtains, shower curtains, bath rugs, clothes, on my knees scrubbing baseboards and floors, dusting and clearing out, wanting the new year to be shiny and bright.

The yard outside is filling with snow. For an hour and a half I went through the list I had made in my mind while under covers, move the trash bins, the buckets of frozen compost, the grills, the bins of firewood, the spare stroller, the ten gallon buckets, the hula hoops, the watering cans, the planter boxes, the yard chairs, the assorted miscellaneous from the side yard, clear the cardboard boxes saved on the back porch for making day care space ships and put them in the recycling bins, make space under the front porch so we can get the snowblower out, meaning move the junk that’s blocking the way, rearrange things to pull the strollers further in so they don’t block access to the snowblower, walk to Eli’s for gas in the gas cans, fill the snowblower tank, pull out all the shovels, prepare, prepare, prepare.

My basement looks a little more crowded. The side yard is ready as it will be to receive the piles of snow I’ll be shoveling or blowing off the narrow walk onto the still many things between walk and hedge, bags of cut apart climber I never took to the curb, four trash and recycling bins from the city, two empty trash bins we use for yard waste, three compost bins, two hoses, a pile of bricks covered in clay pots that have frozen to the bricks, a roll of wire fencing frozen into the ground, all that I couldn’t move. But the gates are open so I can push the snowblower thru. The chairs are neatly stacked on the back porch. The snowblower is full of gas and the spare gas can is full.  The bike lock that connects it to the ladder is wrapped in plastic so the lock doesn’t freeze shut with blowing snow. The trash can is on the back porch with a lid to hold the compost until we have a thaw and can access the compost bins again. My coat and other gear, smelling lightly of gasoline, are hanging in the tv room, waiting for the real work to begin, and I am in the kitchen, third cup of tea, having eaten toasted banana bread leftover from Jonah’s birthday, candle lit, writing, feeling frightened and relieved after the fall I had after closing the gate to the porch where I store the snowblower, when I slipped on ice under the snow formed by a drip I need to deal with at that corner of the roof where the gutters come together and leak, leak, leak.

Before I knew it I was on my back, hat in the snow, almost in tears, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up, the nightmare I’ve had since my husband moved out, a fall on my front walk with no one around, and the consequences that might follow.

I hit my head, but not hard. I hurt my butt, likely a bruise. I fell on my wrist, and it’s sore, but not broken. I’ll be able to shovel, to blow snow, to cook and clean and look after myself and my kids, to work. This time.

As I walked back from Eli’s at the top of the hill, where a sweet young guy who pumps my gas helped me remove the nozzles and fill the gas cans and Wesley, the assistant there who has not always been my friend, wished me good luck, I slipped on the ice halfway home, caught myself, balancing one small gas can in each hand, and said a thank you for that, happy not to fall, aware that someday I could, and that at 80, the picking up won’t be easy, that at 80 I’ll need another plan, not walking up to the gas station with a can in either hand, not shoveling and snow blowing on my own.

This is my first winter since my husband moved out over eight years ago that I’ve managed the snow without a man in my life. Though I’ve never had a partner who shared my home, I’ve had two longterm guys who gave me snow shoveling support and advice. Still, I’ve mostly relied on myself, sometimes my kids, sometimes a friend or volunteer, sometimes a housemate or two.

This year I saw a pink snow shovel in the hardware store. I thought of buying it, Real Women Shovel Snow a blog post I wrote a long time ago when I was first learning, then Real Women and Their Children Shovel Snow another time, when my kids were all home and I depended upon them to help me with a particularly bad storm, pre snowblower, when it was really more than we could handle, and my friend told me of a women in her eighties who had carved little steps into her piles of snow and covered them in sand for traction so she could carry the shovels full of snow to the top of the mound where she could no longer toss it. Stories like those get me through, balance the how and why and how long can I do this on my own thoughts, remind me to be strong, resilient, resourceful.

I have a lot of shovels, kid sized, adult sized, tall person sized, back saving, wide and narrow, plastic and metal, an ice chopper. I really don’t need one in pink.

I do need to be strong and healthy and to preserve my back and wrists and head. The fall scared me, and reminded me to go slow, to take it easy, to ask for help, to keep my standards reasonable, to take breaks. After putting the sleds and shovels on the porch and putting the grills and other stuff that needed to go to the basement away, I came upstairs, tucked the plastic around the wooden furniture on the back porch, gave up moving it all to the basement, checked on the air conditioners on the front porch, which Richard had stacked there, left the plastic sheet I had brought up to cover them tucked into the corner of the tv room by the door, made myself some tea and toast, lit the candle, put on some Natalie Merchant, where If No One Ever Marries Me came on the feed and made me pause at her playful, honest way of reminding me how to be a single woman in the world again. Enjoy. Music helps. As do reliable heat, good food, tea and coffee, candles, kids at home, and a snow day to pace myself, catch up, and just be.

Now to open the holiday gift I bought for the house, a portable bluetooth speaker so the music can follow us wherever we go, in a size and shape that goes beyond the speakers on our laptops or phones.

Bomb Cyclone come and get us. We’re as ready as we’ll get.

Yesterday on the way to pick up my daughter from her dad’s, I looked to the sidewalk on their street and saw my son, carrying a backpack and a bag I didn’t recognize, followed by his dad. I stopped and rolled down the window, and learned that my son was on his way home to NYC, off to the bus stop with his dad. I instinctively raised my hand to my mouth and blew him a kiss, and he returned the gesture, neither of us self-conscious enough to withhold this from his dad, though inside one of our houses this could not have happened.

Earlier in the day, I had heard from a new friend that he was spending the day with his eleven year old daughter, making art and cooking.

After dropping off my daughter at her retreat, I had considered visiting my old guy and his son before they both departed for other worlds, longterm. I wanted to give them each a hug and wish them well. He wanted time with his son. I demurred, and rather than driving west from the retreat center, I drove east, back to my drum circle, where I expected to be welcomed, and was, though unexpectedly our teacher had brought his daughter, another eleven year old spending part of the vacation with her dad. She drummed with us, exchanged knowing glances and smiles and giggles with her dad, and took time away to read her book, a novel that seemed so sophisticated for an eleven year old, something George Orwell, that she must have been reading it for homework, or awfully precocious. At the end of the drum circle, her dad got up and gave her a big kiss on her head, which she wiped off while bowing her head and smiling.

I thought when I got home and again this morning about eleven, about dads, about my friends in the Sharing Circle who have been incarcerated and who hold such tender hearts for their loved ones, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, friends, about the men I’ve met on OkCupid since I started back at that, and how many of the conversations I’ve had have been about fathering, and the pleasure and challenges that brings to fathers of divorce or who don’t live with the mothers of their children, whether the children live with them part time or are grown and on their own. A few weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times about soccer games for children and their fathers in prisons in Italy, arranged by those who know the importance of fathers to their children, and play, and connection. Revolutionary and essential.

I think about all the dads I’ve known in my many years of teaching and caring for children and the depth of commitment so many of them have towards their children.

I’ve been reading A Gentleman in Moscow, slowly, intermittently. Today’s chapter just happened to include an incident when the main character finds himself in the role of father to a child who he’s been asked to care for by a young woman he’s known since she was a child. When the child in his care has a terrible fall, he feels the depth of connection of a true parent. I had been wanting to write this piece since last night. At the end of that chapter, I decided to start.

My own dad died when I was six, as I’ve written here many times. Lately I’ve found myself telling that story to strangers and trying to explain the experience and loss of my dad from my fifty one year old perspective. Recently, my sister sent me an e-mail from my mom’s brother in which he told her about watching my dad and his brothers playing basketball at their high school, about the grace of their running and dribbling. For some reason, that set my sister off. Neither of us knew my dad played basketball. My mom was nine years younger, so she probably never saw him play in high school, though her older brother did. My sister and I sure never did, though I loved watching basketball at my high school and had crushes on plenty of the players. There are so many things about my dad we’ll  never know. Hearing stories and studying other dads gives me clues.

This week, as often happens on holiday vacations, I had my kids for the first half and they’ve been with their dad the second half. I’d hoped to see my son for our traditional trip the the museum, for a meal or a walk before he headed back to New York. Last year his sister and brother and I drove him home on New Year’s Eve, spent the day walking and ended up at the MOMA, where I was able to buy him a membership for his birthday and get the rest of us in for five bucks each. Not this year, though the last thing he said to me was that I should come visit with his sister. I hope we will. The image of his dad smiling while walking him to the train and the three of us sharing that moment of happy/sad, our boy is here/our boy is gone, I’m home/I’m going back home transition reminded me of how this life I’m living works. My kids get a dad. I get time without them, which is sometimes a gift, though often sad.

Today I’m enjoying that time, sleeping late, reading on the couch from A Gentleman in Moscow, eating leftover banana bread I made for my middle son’s day after Christmas birthday, soon to eat pasta with the meatballs I made for my daughter’s Christmas birthday, listening to music from the last chapter of my book, Tchaikovsky, being quiet and still, resting, writing, things I haven’t done a lot of this last week of holidays and birthdays.

My kids have a dad. The drum teacher is spending his last day of their time this vacation with his daughter. The new friend is spending the rest of the week with his daughter. The old boyfriend and his son cleared out some of the son’s stuff from the attic and added more, negotiating a big life change and move for his son, leaving a piece of his life behind, before heading out on separate trips today.

I have a photo of my dad and mom and sister and me opposite me in the living room, which I pulled out when searching for something in the china cabinet, shared with my kids, and decided to keep out for the holidays. We were that small family once, for a very short time. My kids and their dad and I were a little family for a shorter time than is ideal. My kids are growing up and learning how to be in their dad’s house and my house and to figure out what home and family mean to them, how long they want to be here or there or off on their own, with friends, faraway.

At this time of year, time for reflection feels critical. The cold and snow and quiet and time alone today are just what I need. After a gray morning the sun has come out. My pasta must be cooked. Time for lunch. Enjoy your sense of dad, whoever he may be,  living, dead, imagined, a friend or relative, whoever looks after you and plays with you, whoever makes you smile and work hard and be strong in a loving sort of way.

Today is Christmas Eve. I have the blessing, and I use that word cautiously, rarely, of waking up with all three of my children sleeping in their beds, which, for longtime readers of this blog, and you know who you are and you are few, is one of the rarest, sweetest pleasures in my life.

Rather than start the day with Quaker Meeting, which has been my tradition of late on Sunday mornings, I slept in and am taking it easy while my kids snooze.

I replied to messages from two old friends who had written me nice, long messages for which I needed focus and my laptop to compose an adequate reply.

I showered and skipped my usual preferred morning routine when I have time, proprioceptive writing and yoga and meditation, in favor of another pleasure I indulge in mostly when my kids are home, puttering in the kitchen.

Today’s treat of choice is attempting to make my Grandma’s Christmas Cookies vegan so my daughter can enjoy them again. I have this little recipe on an index card which I copied from an index card of my grandma’s or my mom’s when I was young and heading off into the world and ready to begin making Christmas of my own. I wish I could take a photo and show you the card, but my blog has sent me too many messages saying I’m out of some sort of space and so I suspect I can no longer share photos here with you, sadly.

I’m letting the dough chill as I write. I should have made the dough last night. I was too busy out with my kids. First we dropped my daughter off for a lovely self-organized birthday party with five good gal friends, hosted by my daughter in Veggie Galaxy and then at the Somerville Theater, where they say Ladybird, a movie everyone has been telling my daughter and me we need to see, which we also saw over Thanksgiving with my son. Then my older son and I ran an errand before meeting my younger son for dinner at Shanghai Fresh, the delicious and affordable restaurant where my kids and Richard and I celebrated my 50th birthday last year, and whose food I have been craving. Then off to Whole Foods for ingredients for Vegan Meatballs and birthday raspberry sorbet to go with the vegan chocolate birthday cake we’ll share tomorrow evening with my mom and sister and her family and my kids in honor of my daughter’s Christmas birthday.

Tonight the kids will be with their dad and stepmom and I’ll be home, alone for the first time in my life on Christmas Eve. I’ll cook and bake and wrap and listen to music and maybe do the writing and yoga and meditation I didn’t do this morning, and then the kids will return to sleep in their beds another night, one of four we’ll share this vacation, more than we’ve shared in a long, long time, blessing, blessing.

Here is my best guess at how to make the cookies, vegan and old-fashioned Grandma style. Rest in peace, Grandma Petrie. She would be 111 if she had lived to January 6th, 2018 rather than leaving this world at 99 and 3/4 just before my 40th birthday.

Oh, what I would do to bake at her side again.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happiest of New Years.

Grandma’s Christmas Cookies, as written, as modified for vegans, and with tips from me for your baking pleasure and success

1/2 c. margarine (I normally use butter. This year, it’s Earth Balance)

1/2 c. sour milk (I add 1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice or white vinegar to a little less than a half cup of milk until the milk curdles, then top off with milk if it isn’t quite 1/2 cup, most years whole cow’s milk, this year, almond milk)

1 c. sugar

1 egg (this year I used egg substitute, purchased at the local Big Y out in Greenfield, available elsewhere, I’m sure.)

2 1/4 c. flour

1 round tsp. baking powder (measured as only a girl who’s watched her grandmother can)

1 tsp. vanilla

nutmeg (Grandma had her amount. The card doesn’t say, so I guess at somewhere under a quarter teaspoon.)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. anise seed

1/2 tsp. salt

Cream shortening + sugar.

Add milk + eggs – beat.

add flour + vanilla + other ingred. (This is how I wrote it once upon a time. These days I add the vanilla before the dry ingredients and tend to mix the dry ingredients separately before adding to the wet, but it doesn’t seem to really matter.)

Roll out using plenty of flour – use 1/4 ” cookie cutters.

Bake 350 degrees.

Use plenty of shortening in frosting.

(So that needs translating! After mixing the batter, it is very, very sticky. I put it in a sealed container in the fridge and ideally leave it there overnight. Too late for that today, so we shall see. When rolling the dough, take out only small amounts at a time. Keep a pile of flour beside the rolling spot on the counter. Cover the counter and the rolling pin and your hands in flour, and begin rolling, turning the dough over once or twice as it expands, to prevent it from sticking to the counter. Dip cutters in flour pile before cutting dough.  I can’t remember if these need to be baked on a greased cookie sheet, so I either grease one or bake the cookies on a silicone silpat mat. As you can see, no baking time is indicated. I think it’s about 7 or 8 minutes. I just smell them when they are almost done and open the oven and I’m usually right. They should be lightly brown on the edges, and not wet looking in the middle.  They need to cool on a wire rack before you frost them.

To frost them, I mix powdered sugar with a bit of vanilla and butter/this year Earth Balance, and then slowly bring the frosting to spreadable consistency by adding milk/almond milk this year, a few drops at a time.

To frost and decorate, you have to do the process in alternation so the frosting doesn’t dry out before you add the decorations. It’s ideal to do this with your kids or your grandma or mom or sister or a friends. I just realized its been years, but that I used to very much enjoy baking ginger bread with my day care kids, teaching them as my grandmother and mother taught me, to make and work with the dough, and to enjoy the fruits/cookies of our labor. Maybe next year I’ll do that again. Its a lot of work, but it’s festive and we always enjoy working in the kitchen together.

Tonight I’ll make two batches of meatballs, one from the Betty Crocker cookbook my mom used when I was growing up, which I requested more than once on my own birthday, including my sixth, which is one of my last memories of time with my dad, and one from Martha Stewart my daughter found online after requesting vegan meatballs with spaghetti and sauce for her birthday. Great taste and great food are passed down, happiness in the making and the sharing and the eating for the holiday and birthday time we’ll be together.