Labor Day...portrait of a forced and begrudging trip to the beachThis is the unbelievably cute couple to whom we bequeathed mom's boat, Speedwell. They took me on a trail run to swim in one of Rockport's quarries and then for a sail on the boat during which we saw 3 sunfish. (I'd have happily run 20 more miles in lieu of going out in the boat. I was trying be gracious while holding in my vomit all the while thinking of my dad saying, "Ah you OK, deah??? You look a bit wooooozy")
Living in my mom’s home in Manchester-by-the-Sea is "glamping." The line between indoors and outdoors is much blurrier than it was in Philadelphia. The kids are becoming used to the armies of carpenter ants, moths and spiders. We made the rookie move of hosting a lobster feast on the evening of trash day leaving us with a noxious bin of shells for a week. This raised the stakes in our war with the raccoons over the compost and trash bins. My brother flummoxed them by drilling small holes into the bin and securing it shut with a tight-fitting bungee cord. Tim thwarted them further by hooking a hanging BBQ fork through the back of the bin. The coons can neither open it nor tip it. The inelegant solution for the trash is a ten-pound rock on top.
I texted my brother, now gone, a photograph of the complete decimation of the rooting plants on the deck, revenge for the now-inaccessible bins. Curt’s immediate response was “GodDAMN they’re entitled." How would the coons have known that they aren't pets? They would regularly saunter into Susie's house through the cat door and help themselves to cat food. She might have given them a disapproving look, but she wouldn’t get up from her online Sudoku to scare them away. The squirrels were clear they were not part of the family. Susie would rush out in her nightie, shouting and pumping an air rifle. Cavorting around bird feeders like it was Cirque du Soleil, the squirrels might hop away for a minute or two, but they'd come back and decimate the bird seed supply in minutes. Before he died, Lincoln, was trying to establish the he was the new sheriff in town. Newly liberated by Lincoln's demise, Nola is taking on the mice, but the squirrels and raccoons are much bigger than she is. As a warning to the mice, Nola placed a dead one in the center of the basement. I'm not going to remove the piles of mouse poop from the cupboards just yet; that would be assuming Nola had won and tempting fate. Besides, my sister in law put all of the pots and pans on slatted, sliding drawers, so they majestically glide over the piles of dung. Cleaning it up doesn't seem that pressing. (Wow, I really am turning into my mom.)
1 Spy Rock Hill Road is a poster child for Tim's assertion that the built environment is responsible for over half of our greenhouse emissions and other forms of egregious waste. Susie's ancient shower head is like a fire hose. It’s covered with a lichen-esque scale, but neither Tim nor I is jumping to buy a "low flow" replacement. Last February mom offered to get the kids another Christmas present. She said, "Money is piling up! Because of this dumb pandemic, I'm not allowed out to spend the money I have, and the government keeps sending MORE." I told her, “Screw the kids, mom, get yourself a new shower door!!!!” She said, “God NO! It's RIDICULOUS! They want $2000 to replace it!” Almost closing the shower door has required a bungee cord for twenty years. To keep from freezing my ass off in the shower I would use exponentially hotter water. It feels like a betrayal to my mom that Tim has finally fixed it. The 40 year old dishwasher washes dishes in under an hour. Susie bought new racks for the interior to avoid an "energy star" replacement. The racks cost as much as a new dishwasher and don’t function well, but the dishes are clean in minutes rather than not clean in hours as is the case with our fancy dishwasher in Philly. I suspect that the fire hose simile prevails in the dishwasher as well.
My brother created a sluice out of a folding table and some deck chairs to prevent rainwater, gushing from the broken wooden gutter, from pouring into the living room. There is no air conditioning, so ancient fans attempt to do the job of cooling. It was actually too hot one evening in August when I had Lisa and Leslie over for drinks. I brought out the massive metal fan that my brother and I shared on the few hot nights in the 70's. Lisa, Leslie, and I could hardly converse over the clacking of the ancient fan. I squatted down and sprayed WD40 into it which did nothing. As I used the top of the fan as a crutch to stand up, my weight quieted it. I said, “Lis, hand me that box over there.” She obliged, and I put the box on top of the fan. Blessed silence! We were able to talk. I sent a picture of the box on the fan to my brother asking if I was a terrible person. The box holds my mom’s ashes. He wrote back, “If the fan is loud in my room when I come up, I WANT MY HALF!” Mom was so practical; I’m sure it would give her pleasure 1. that her ashes are useful 2. that we haven’t sprung for a new fan. Susie owned FIVE vacuums that didn’t function. The one that almost worked employed a roll of filthy duct tape to not function. Susie had vacuum parts and bags left over from the 60’s. We could have opened a vacuum museum with a Kenmore, 2 Orrecks, Hoover bits, and a vintage Kirby. Lis said, “At least she tried to buy new vacuums! My parents still have the Electrolux we would throw down the stairs in rage when we were 7 and too little to operate it." Lisa and I would get $2 each for penny candy if we dusted and vacuumed up the piles of golden retriever fur in her house. I am very happy, by the way, with the Shark I bought. Dysons are so overrated. They suck TOO well. Inevitably, 8 nerf bullets, a uniball, and a cast iron fry pan get sucked up, and a husband has to take the whole damned thing apart.
People keep asking me what I am doing. I am rudderless without my two time suckers: my dog and my pottery business. I have been trail running, walking the beach and trying to meet neighbors. Garnering neighborhood goodwill is my job, as we may need a variance to build on my mom’s lot. Tim is resigned to the idea that he will soon be despised because he is a developer who likes dense, affordable and 0 energy housing. People in Manchester do not like change and are fond of their 4 car garage McMansions. On this subject, one of my new friends, Andrew, said, “I really want to come over and have a drink on your deck before I have to start pretending I don’t know you.”
We had a fun gathering of neighbors on Sunday 9/19. It would have been Susie's 78th birthday. We've been depleting her prodigious liquor supply, but Drambuie, 3 bottles of bitters, and too much Scotch has hindered our progress; enter the Rusty Nail. I was prepared to make "Bonnie Prince Charlies" (Sparkling wine and Drambuie) but the Rusty Nails were a surprise hit. (Let me know if you have any fun ideas for Port and Vermouth.) I forced the three couples to humor me in a Whole Foods versus Trader Joe's cheese off. I am a dogged Trader Joe's supporter, but I've suspected their St. Andre and Dubliner cheeses are sub par. I was pleasantly surprised by the seriousness with which our guests took on their roles. They discussed texture, odor, taste at length. My scientific methodology and rigor were questioned as one plate was slightly cooler than the other. For those of you who care, the difference is negligible, and my entitled white girl persona is fully intact.
Without 100 handles to put on fresh cups, I play hooky (from nothing) to hang out with my husband. We snuck off to the movies in Marblehead on his birthday. Realizing mid-movie that we had to leave early to get Toby to ballet was fine, the plot was predictable, and the theater was a mad house because those kids had Yom Kippur off-weird in a town that is merely 6% Jewish. We also detoured to a little brewery on our way home from a romantic trip to the DMV. Of course we talked about the kids the entire time we drank our sneaky beers.
We mused about what is ever going to motivate JP, when he will stop lying to us, whether or not his confidence is flagging because of some of his hurdles, and why he never stands up to Toby, 3.5 years his junior. We usually come to the conclusion that JP is essentially a happy person, so he will have a fine life. I introduced my theory that Steel seems the most cynical but is actually a romantic at heart because she loves rom coms. I used our friend, a DA in Philly who works primarily on gruesome murder cases to illustrate. The friend wakes up at 4:30 am to cry while watching sappy movies on the Lifetime channel; then she can face her job and try and make the world a more just place. Guileless Toby, on the other hand, is so devastated by inequity that she hates rom coms and country music because they are predictable and their happy endings don't reflect how awful the world really is. She is the true cynic. Tim can always start scrolling through his phone if my theories don't interest him. If I'm day drinking, I don't notice.
Girlfriends keep me sane, so I’m on a quest to get a few of them. It feels a little like internet dating. I met one woman named Dahlia who has also just moved here with her husband and kids from Whistler. The weirdly psychic massage therapist set us up. Dahlia and I walked the beach together and gabbed about our situations. She’s younger than I am and is a lot more chill. She and her daughter have type 1 diabetes; maybe that helps her not sweat the small stuff. In my current state of catastrophizing things, their diabetes makes ME anxious. Dahlia asked what Tim does for exercise, probably hoping that he and her husband might connect. I launched into a tirade about my fears I’ve married my mother because Tim, like Susie, has no interest in exercise. He bristles at any suggestion that he NEEDS to take it on. I conceded to her that he’s fine doing things that are exercise but also have another purpose, like splitting wood or building. Dahlia said, “Oh. Why don’t you go get some wood?” She’s clearly wiser than I am. It reminded me of all of the time I wasted trying to get my first gas kiln to fire evenly. I eventually allowed it to fire cold on top and hot on the bottom and loaded cool and hot glazes accordingly.
I came home from meeting Dahlia giddy. I chided my kids after our “How was school? Did you meet any new friends?” conversation. “None of you asked ME if I made any new friends today.” They were happy for me, although they laughed about my being that dorky girl who runs around school saying, “Will YOU be my friend????” How IS school? All three start at 7:40 am and finish at 2:15/30. They walk or bike to and from school. They eat or don't eat a free (because of Covid) disgusting school lunch. The time that Tim and I normally put into making their lunches and driving them is now ours. I make a sit-down breakfast with hot tea for them. All 5 of us hang out for at least 10 minutes before school. It feels very civilized. As predicted, the girls have made friends easily. JP is having a slightly harder time. He says the kids all seem really old and mature. He hasn’t been able to explain that comment further, but Dahlia’s son, Hank, said the same thing. I wonder if by-the-book parenting creates these "mature" kids. There are definitely certain formalities that have gone by the wayside in my parenting. The girls are self-taught, but I was exasperated telling JP who is 15, how to properly make a bed. During my “hospital corners” demo, he cried, “Where do you LEARN all of this stuff???” I responded, “You learn it from your MOTHER!” Am I finally having these conversations because I feel my mother is watching? Maybe these New England kids have been parented out of any inherent creativity or self expression. I hope not. There's not a lot of talk about innovative approaches to teaching either, but are my kids really deserving of all of that? They didn't rave about it when they had it.
JP was lamenting that he'd not made any friends "like Helena and Cate" to which I responded, "You mean girls??" He said, "I guess so." That seems easy to tackle, although maybe the girls and guys don't hang out socially as much in Manchester-by-the-Sea. He did, by mistake, poop in the girls' bathroom. He emerged from the stall to a group of female soccer players about to change for sports. At the end of the story, he said, matter-of-factly, "I'm glad I looked especially gay today." He was wearing the hand-me-down clothes of our neighbor who is such a jock he goes to "The Prep." Clearly I don't know what gay looks like anymore. I'm thankful that the bathroom blunder hasn't resulted in some sort of lewd behavior accusation.
JP strutted down to Dunkin on the first Monday after school with his newly-updated resume and got a job. Living at the shore with his Grandma and making money at Starbuck’s all summer has done something for his initiative. He’ll blow the money on crappy food and upgrades for his gaming characters, but who cares? All the kids go to Dunkin, so people will know he exists…even if he is “that deaf kid who works at Dunkin.”
Steel has already said she prefers school in Manchester to Penn Charter. She says the kids are nicer-especially the boys. She had nowhere to go but up. The boys were body-shaming assholes last year. She actually blew the whistle on it and told the administration. One of the most hated of the boy pack (except for the fact that half of the girls have crushes on him because he’s the alpha) was recently JOKING to people, “Didn’t Steel’s dog get run over by a train??? Ha ha!” I'm speechless. (and I want him to get hit by a bus or get caught giving roofies to a girl in college)
Steel was initially put off by the first-week-of-school community-building exercises. “MOM! We had to color in stars for the number of siblings we have and stupid crap like that!” She’s not loving the academics, but at least they’ve stopped coloring. After not speaking to me for 2 days because I MADE her do field hockey, she’s listed it as one of her favorite things about school. The team isn’t great, so she’s one of the better kids rather than one of the worst. She’s definitely not fond of her new field hockey kilt. The upside is that when we do her first resume, we can put “proficient at faux Irish dancing” at the bottom where you list random skills.
Toby’s quakerly friend group at Penn Charter is proving difficult to replace. She lent one girl $1 for snacks, and the girl told another girl she wasn't planning on paying Toby back unless Toby asked for it. Hearing that, Toby asked for it, and the girl told her she didn’t have the money. You can’t get away with anything in a town this small, so a report went to Toby that the girl was spotted buying candy later that day. A few days later another girl told Toby that the dollar borrower was never intending to pay Toby back. Toby was wondering out loud why people are looking up to and liking girls who aren’t nice. I remember thinking that about “the popular girls.” when I switched to a new school, but I would not have vocalized it.
I was disproportionately obsessed with this dollar. Steel plays field hockey with the little con artist, and she despised her before the dollar incident. I imagined Steel sticking close to the perp on a Richdale run and grabbing the brat's change while saying, in a terrifying "Mare of Easttown" Philly accent, "The dollar is for Toby, the rest covers the interest and MY fee." The second vignette employs the talents of another popular girl that Toby doesn't like. "She's a tattle tale." (This is rich coming from the girl who LIVES to bust her brother doing anything wrong.) I told Toby to regale the tattle tale with the saga of the dollar snatcher in a light, off-the-cuff gossip session. Toby could end the story with something like, "I'm new! I've never met girls who steal from other girls and tell people about it like it's something to be proud of. Is that normal here????" This might inspire the tattler, in a fit of Manchester-by-the-Sea pride, to seek a teacher to rectify the situation. Toby could easily respond, in shock and disbelief, "Oh no! I had no IDEA she would TELL!!!"
Update: the dollar was paid back or maybe Toby told me it was, so I'd stop asking/thinking about it. The 6th grade at Manchester Essex Regional Middle School might need a little Toby shake down. Maybe Toby needs to toughen up. The mascot of the school is a hornet. In math class, Toby was actually stung by a hornet on her wrist. When she yelped, the boy next to her said, “You shouldn’t have messed with it!” A shocked Toby said in her head, Excuse you?! I DIDN’T mess with it!!! Why aren't you asking if I'm OK? Toby has since conceded that the kid isn’t all that bad which is surprising and promising.
Unfortunately, Toby's new dance schedule is going to take up at least 20 hours a week between the class time and the commute, so she won't have a social life to be mad about. I'm going to be one of those moms with a bumper sticker that says, "Sorry I can't; my daughter is a dancer." Toby auditioned for one of her two dance commitments in front of the couple running the company, a retired American ballerina and her Russian ballet retired spouse. Proximity to them and their incredible feet, as they executed corrections for Toby, was a treat. Toby is now at a level beyond her age bracket because of how quickly she responded to their advice. I have nothing to do with Toby's flexibility or grace, but her "coachability" I can relate to. Always a pleaser, if a coach told me to jump, I didn't ask "how high?" I just jumped as high as I possibly could. Whatever petty bourgeois crap I'm going through with my family. It definitely helps to start my days looking at this: