An Act of Love, in the Middle Years

Sophie is 7 now, and in the fall she will start second grade. We don’t really talk about Facebook at home but somehow she knows about it (school, friends, the life she’s now living for 6+ hours on her own Monday through Friday) and lately, when something funny or charming or sad or uplifting happens she says, “Don’t post that.” And this took me by surprise, so much so that I pretty much gave up blogging altogether, not sure how to handle writing about my life while at the same time respecting her—and the boys’—privacy.

But I think mothers, in general, tend to forget we also live our own lives and that even aside from the dishes and laundry and outside freelance work and capping of markers and wiping up toothpaste from inside the sink we have interesting stories to tell.

That and my husband, long ago, said I could post anything I wanted to about him.

A door open.

I walked down the street to a friend’s house for a few drinks and conversation tonight, after the kids were in bed. (To be fair, only one was in bed so I was “getting out of” two bedtime routines.) I was reluctant to go, though. We had had a lovely early evening at our local YMCA as a family, swimming at the pool. We went out for dinner, a treat, did a 20-minute clean-up at home and then Andy pulled out his dusty guitar and played songs on the porch while I sipped wine.

I had put Owen to bed (who had gotten in trouble for not helping with the 20-minute cleanup, so he had to go to bed early although I stayed with him and rubbed his back until he fell asleep, which makes me think he got away with a pretty nice punishment, all said). Sophie and James were running around in the backyard. Almost-summer at dusk. It was idyllic. Andy finished up a song and I said, “I really should go.”

I walked to my friend’s house while he put James and Sophie to bed.

Cut to midnight.

I was walking home, less than a mile, when I ran into the girlfriend of our neighbor who lives in an apartment connected to an automotive repair shop behind our house. She was distraught, as she couldn’t find her dog, Camouflage. She said she had no voice left from calling his name for two hours. So I walked with her and hollered for Camouflage, at a level I deemed loud enough for her but quiet enough for our sleeping neighbors.

I should note that we’ve had issues with her boyfriend, who lives behind us. Also, my friend was texting me, asking me if I was home yet. I worried about my situation.

We couldn’t find Camouflage. She asked if I could drive her. I have a strict “one drink” personal policy when driving rule. So I said, “no.” But then I added that my husband possibly could.

So she walked with me to our house, and I invited her in. The kids were asleep and Andy was in the basement, playing Xbox. I walked down, careful not to trip on our dirty laundry. I explained the situation. The look on his face …

And yet, he went. He looked for a flashlight, he put on his shoes, he gave me (another) look, but then he found the keys. And he invited her into his car.

He drove around for a half-hour plus.

They didn’t find Camouflage.

But he tried.

Marriage is tough, and three young children with their child demands can make it even tougher. But then, you walk home at midnight with the girlfriend of a neighbor your husband has had issues with, and you ask your husband to drive said girlfriend around to look for a lost dog. And he goes. And you think, know, that while he’s doing it a little for her, possibly not-at-all for the neighbor, and a lot for the dog, he’s mostly doing it for you.

That’s love.

We haven’t taken a solo vacation in years. I regularly forget to tell him important things involving both of us, our kids, our life. Sometimes he comes up to bed late at night only to find me sleeping in our bed, arms wrapped around one, two, maybe three children, and he simply goes back downstairs and sleeps on the couch.

And yet we love. In varied ways.

We make a banana cream pie on a Tuesday night. We drive someone around at midnight, hoping to find a lost dog. We make do. We make up. We make right.

So here’s to all of you muddling through the young-child years of marriage. And here’s to all of you who respond to unreasonable requests. And here’s to all of you who work for love, understanding that it’s simple, even when it seems that it’s not.

“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” —Michael Leunig


We know so little when we’re young.

I don’t remember the family’s name. I don’t even remember the boy’s name. But I remember babysitting, as a young teenager, in the summer. The boy had been practicing riding his bike without training wheels with his dad. And he was excited. So very excited. He asked if I could practice with him. “Sure!” I said. I remember the look of concentration on his face. I remember that he was wearing a helmet. I remember that I held onto the back of his seat and then … I remember letting go. And he rode. Around the cul-de-sac. By himself. Without falling. I remember cheering him on, and I remember his joy.

And then.

His parents came home.

The boy was asleep. I told them, so excited to share that joy with them. The dad’s face fell. And then I realized: That was his thing. That moment belonged not to me and the boy, but to the boy and his dad—the dad who had spent days working with the boy, building up to that bittersweet moment of letting go.

The dad was kind, and proud, but still silently, yet clearly, upset he hadn’t witnessed the moment himself. And I felt terrible.

I now understand why daycare workers and babysitters share in a parents’ excitement about a rollover or a first word or a first step even though they had already witnessed it, and with thought and grace chose not to share, instead giving that moment to the parent.

I’ve never been good about recording firsts. Numbers, dates. I like to write words instead. Turns out this has been a bit problematic when filling out hospital forms. When asked about firsts I tend to put a lot of question marks. On the last form I was given, exasperated, I simply wrote “the first six months were a blur.”

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love them, those monumental firsts.

I’ve been lucky to witness many, and I’ve missed some. I was in Chicago when Owen took his first steps. I was waiting with girlfriends for the L when I heard the ping of my email and saw the video Andy had sent. And I was grateful he witnessed it. It was his turn.

Sophie has long loved her scooter. She’s fast and meticulous with her steering and can brake like a pro. As such, her bike has spent the last two summers on the porch, mostly unused. But lately we’ve been talking about getting her on it again, and taking off the training wheels. Friends lent us a scoot bike, as an aide. And after practicing with the scoot bike for awhile, last weekend, she asked Andy to take off her bike’s training wheels.

I now understand the pride of the dad of the boy I babysat so many years ago. And the disappoint in not being the one, after days of practice, to finally let go. And I was so happy both Andy and I were able to witness Sophie’s fearful-yet-brave wobbling this weekend.

Drivers on our street slowed down and waved. Friends yelled “Go, Sophie! You can do it!” while swinging on tree swings in their front yards. The neighbor across the street said it didn’t seem so long ago when she was doing the same with her boys, who are now in their 20s.

I’m sorry, long-ago dad, for taking that moment from you.

I was young and unknowing, but I get it now. Even if I may not mark it in a baby book or the calendar, I get it.

“The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.” —Sloan Wilson

Our 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago on October 2 Andy and I got married at the Cincinnati Observatory.

It was a lovely wedding.

We honeymooned in Italy by way of Paris. Our total time in Paris was fewer than 24 hours, and immediately upon our return I said I wanted to spend our 10-year anniversary in Paris.

Ten years ago we were young, idealistic, without children and a mortgage, happy to live on boxed noodles and one car. I started a Paris Fund Jar, swiping change from Andy’s dresser, thinking about all the street crepes I would buy in what seemed like a lifetime away.

So much can change in 10 years, and yet it can go by so fast. In a letter Andy wrote to me for our 10th anniversary he reminded me of this: In those 3,652 days we had three kids, acquired one dog, went through six job changes, bought and/or sold five cars, had six surgeries, bought two houses and celebrated 34 birthdays.

Life—beautiful and hard, quiet and thrilling—happens.

We’re on a strict three-year money-savings plan right now, with hopes for a solid (financial) future.

Throughout our 10 years, Andy (who is, at times, more reasonable in his daydreams) would joke about our 10-year anniversary trip to Paris, telling me that certainly we could go—as long as it was Paris … Kentucky. And so, several months ago, knowing Paris (France) was decidedly out of the question, we decided to book a room in Paris, Kentucky. Turns out, from the pictures online and a magazine article a friend gave to me, it’s a lovely little town in the heart of horse country.

But then we really looked at the cost of it, and thought about how it directly conflicted with our grand three-year money-savings plan. And so we downsized our (or, perhaps, my) daydreams, again.

And so, on our 10th anniversary, we went back to the Cincinnati Observatory and had a picnic underneath the same tree, in front of the same rock, we were married 10 years ago.

It was perfect.

Andy came home from work a bit early and grilled some chicken for sandwiches to pack. We included some chips and Sofia Minis. We sliced an avocado and homegrown tomato on a small cutting board my mom had given to me as a Bride’s Day gift (for the 12 months prior to our wedding my mom gifted me something small on the 2nd of each month—a tradition I hope to carry on for my children should they choose to marry someday). And we packed our picnic in a basket gifted to me by dear friends, during a bridal shower.

Earlier that morning, while the kids were at school, I went to The BonBonerie and got two slices of cake—carrot and opera cream—the same flavors we had at our wedding.

The weather was cool with a warm breeze. As the sun set bats flew over us. The leaves around us were just starting to change color, and the Observatory behind us lit up.

After our picnic we attended the Observatory’s weekly Thursday lecture and viewing. We learned about eclipses, and viewed the moon and a gold and blue double star in the beautiful, old telescope.

But, of course, not all of life is wonderfulbeautifulperfect—not even 10-year anniversaries.

On the way to the Observatory I was irritated. We were running a half hour late—and only had a sitter for four hours. I was worried it would be too dark for our picnic, and that we would be too rushed. I was worried we would be late for the lecture. Upon our arrival I noted that the big, old, beautiful tree we were married under was half dead. I was worried that was a bad omen. And selfishly, unrealistically, spoiledly, I was also irritated we weren’t in Paris—France or Kentucky.

But something happened during our walk over to the tree. Maybe it reminded me of our wedding day walk from the Observatory steps to the tree, hand-in-hand, listening to the walking violin players, leading all our family and friends behind us. Whatever happened happened suddenly, and by the time we spread out our picnic blanket and poured the champagne, I didn’t even care when I spilled half a glass all over my chicken sandwich.

While at The BonBonerie I splurged (sorry, grand three-year savings plan) on these cookies for the kids.

After their dinner, and before we left for our picnic, we gave them the cookies. We told them why we were going out on a Thursday night, the reason we were celebrating. We told them we married because we wanted to be a family. And that we wanted them, someday, and now that we had them, how thankful we were.

Tonight, thinking and writing about all of this, I was reminded of an article written in Cincinnati Business Courier, about local engagements. I was interviewed for it. Where some other couples talked about getting engaged on a six-day backpacking trip through Glacier National Park or on a mountaintop in Bar Harbor, Maine, I talked about how Andy surprised me—during a picnic—at Mariemont’s Dale Park.

And thinking about that I thought about the wedding song we danced to, “Simple,” by k.d. lang.

And so it all came back, full circle.

“and love, as philosophy
is simple …
and ours …” —k.d. lang, David Samuel Piltch

The Garland.

It’s February. Our Christmas garland is still hanging on our front porch.

Ever see the Everybody Loves Raymond episode titled “Baggage” (season 7)? In it, Ray and Debra return from a weekend trip and temporarily leave their suitcase on the staircase landing. Weeks pass with them both refusing to carry it the rest of the way, believing it is the other’s responsibility.

Their suitcase = our garland.

Everything else in our house Christmas related is packed away—the indoor decorations, the tree, the outside lights, the taped-to-the-bookcase Christmas cards—everything.

Except the garland.

Andy graciously, selflessly and in only a slightly (mostly) Grinch-like manner hung all the outdoor lights and garland. “It’s for the kids,” I told him when I handed him our new Dyno Seasonal Solutions St. Nick’s Choice Professional Pole for Hanging Lights, 16-Feet, which I ordered on Amazon this year.

I, in turn, took over all the indoor decorating.

After Christmas, I put away all the indoor decorations.

He took down and put away the Christmas lights but for some inexplicable reason, not the garland.

When I remind him of what he’s done and what I’ve done in regards to why he should take down and put away the garland, he’s quick to point out how he carried all the large Christmas bins all the way down from the attic.

I then remind him that I’m the one who shoved all the too-small clothes and extra hangers and beach towels out of the way on the attic stairs, creating a path so he didn’t fall and die. And then I remind him how I’m always the one to create stair paths all the time and it’s something no one gives me credit for, ever.

THEN he brings up the tree. The tree he says he had to trim in the house because I always pick one that’s much too tall, which I say he wouldn’t need to trim in the house if he had a better understanding of how tall our entryway is when we’re out in the field. THEN he says every year he’s the only one who does the lights and then I remind him that he doesn’t let anyone else do the lights because we don’t “push them in far enough” or something along those lines. AND THEN he says the kids help both of us hang up the ornaments so I shouldn’t get credit for that. “Help,” I say. “Yes, they help.”

Every weekend we make an idealistic to-do list of which we accomplish about 20 percent, on average. Every weekend since January 1 “take down the garland” has been on the to-do list and yet it never gets taken down.

Some days it was -5°. I get that. No one should be taking down garland in -5° weather. But this Saturday, it was 56°.

“If you want it taken down so badly, take it down,” he says, reminding me of how he took the tree out to the curb on our town’s tree recycling day, carried the decoration boxes back up to the attic and took down all the outdoor lights.

And then I remind him how I made our Christmas card list, updated all the addresses, ordered the cards from a friend, addressed and mailed them. I remind him how I did 95 percent of the Christmas shopping and 98 percent of the Christmas wrapping. (He reminds me of the “help” I had wrapping from the kids.)

And round and round and round we go.

And there our garland sits, for all to see, 40 days after Christmas.

“It’s growing on me,” he says. “I kind of like it.”

“We are that house!” I say. “We are totally that house.”

“So TAKE IT DOWN,” he says.

“It’s YOUR JOB!” I say.

And round and round.

I let him read this. “This isn’t even a fight!” he says adding something about “understating my arguments” and then adding something about how “it’s not even an argument.”

“Then what should I call it?” I say, changing the title from “The Garland Fight” to “The Garland.”

“A standoff. But it’s not even that! I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

I smile.

“So … tomorrow?” I ask.

“Maybe,” he says.

And round.

“In the early years, you fight because you don’t understand each other. In the later years, you fight because you do.” —Joan Didion

My Dad’s Retirement

Work, for my dad, started early—in life and in the day. He grew up on a hog farm in Lewisburg, Ohio. He helped with the hard work of the farm, and my grandparents paid him and his siblings for the work that they did. He went to college, taught, got a master’s degree and taught some more. He was good at his work, but he never let it define him. Case in point: In 1982, he started working for McGraw-Hill Book Company. I have postcards from the early 80s from places like New York City—places my dad traveled for work. I remember going to the airport with him, getting on his plane and stepping into the cockpit. I remember a pilot giving me my own pilot wings. I remember watching his plane leave the airport and I remember the excitement of postcards in the mail. I don’t know if I simply associate Harry Chapin’s “The Cat’s in the Cradle” with my dad’s decision to leave his district manager job or if the song truly influenced him but he did leave it after three years. And most of his career, from 1985 to 2013, was spent with Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, most recently as Vice President of Business Operations. He did a lot of good there.

In June, he retired.

We attended a banquet for all the Great Oaks retirees late this spring. His speech made me teary.

And then in June, Kyle from San Francisco, and Katy, Tom and Colleen from North Carolina, came to town to celebrate.

These were some of the best summer days and nights.

We celebrated many things that week. We had dinner at A Tavola followed by cake and gifts at our house to celebrate Father’s Day and my mom’s birthday.

Our immediate family toasted and gifted my dad after dinner at Troy’s Cafe. My mom gave him two engraved bricks that both say “But it’s Baseball! Gary Gebhart”—one’s at home, the other, at Great American Ball Park.

For weeks beforehand my mom gathered one word from people who know my dad—one word that describes him. She then made The List.

The List
major league
baseball guru
Carnac the Magnificent
sports guru

The next day family, friends and colleagues attended a party at my parents’ house.

My dad and brother-in-law spent days preparing Detling Field for a ballgame. We played a bit but then …

a downpour.

Still, an enjoyable day, complete with Eli’s BBQ sandwiches for all.

Now my parents are both retired. My dad still works, but it’s work of his choosing. He gardens. He works in the yard. He works out. He attends services at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. He volunteers at the Freestore Foodbank. He tutors a kindergartener once a week at South Avondale Elementary School. Every week he and my mom go on a date—Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Findley Market, a concert in a coffee shop. Next weekend they’re going to Colonial Williamsburg to see the Threads of Feeling exhibit with my grandma and my sister and her family. They went to Hawaii.

My dad stopped by the other day, after tutoring, just to hang out, to play tickle monster with the kids, to be beat in Bingo. This time for him is so incredibly well-deserved. And I’m just so thankful to be a part of it.

“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” —Harry Emerson Fosdick

The Perils of Fatherhood

Ed note: Andy gave me full permission to write this post.

A couple weeks ago we were all on the couch. I was reading picture books out loud, to the kids. Andy found a marble in the couch, while I was reading. And for whatever reason he thought it would be funny to secretly put the marble inside his belly button and then surprise the kids with the fact that he had a marble stuck there once I finished the story.

Except, he fell asleep.

Fast forward several hours later. Andy’s doing our weekly grocery shopping trip, late at night, after the kids are in bed. He’s in the produce section when he notices something hard in his belly button.

It’s the marble.

I’m still laughing.

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” —Clarence B. Kelland

Life With Young Children, Described In Two Sentences

scene: the mini van

Andy: “Everyone needs to be very quiet while I make an important phone call.”

Sophie: “Do you want to hear how good I can make a sheep sound?”

“Yes, having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit.” —Bill Cosby

The Office

The final episode of “The Office” is on right now. Andy and I used to watch it religiously, every Thursday night. We stopped three years ago (Owen and James turn 3 Sunday). The show started soon after Andy and I were married. I was working at Popular Woodworking magazine at the time. One of my editors suggested we check out the British version—I gave it to Andy for Valentine’s Day (he gave me a book by David Sedaris).

I remember exactly where we sat on the couch in our house on Grant street, while watching it. The blanket I curled up under. Where Tucker slept. Thursday nights were our TV night. (We loved “ER,” too.)

Andy had this silly little dance that he used to do during the theme song—I loved it.

Before kids we routinely met friends at Arthur’s in Hyde Park on Thursday nights, for happy hour/dinner immediately after work. I always had a veggie burger, fries and a Blue Moon. I rarely drink beer and yet tonight I’m drinking a Blue Moon—I suppose my subconscious is being sentimental.

Much of the show I could relate to. Maybe it’s because my first job was writing for a business-to-business publication about, of all things, paper. Maybe it’s because cubicle work is cubicle work anywhere—so much of it resonates. Companies are companies, too. I remember watching an episode in which Michael hands out ice cream sandwiches to soften the blow of a new, expensive health care plan. If I remember correctly, the very next day the company I worked for handed out ice cream sandwiches to all the employees in an attempt to soften a different blow.

I watched episodes while pregnant. While sleep-deprived. Episodes interrupted 10 times while trying to persuade a little one to sleep. Episodes in full while thankful for routine and (mostly) guaranteed bedtimes.

And although there was the three-year-break, I’m watching now.

It’s not so much about the show. (When the last episode of Seinfeld aired I spent it sitting on top of a hill outside Ohio University, watching the sun set with a friend. And I love Seinfeld.) I think the sentimentality comes from the time that has passed. Eight years is a long time. All endings remind me of beginnings, and this is just another (small) one.

Sure, TV can be problematic. But it also allows these fictional stories to weave in and out of our lives for much longer than the length of a book or a play or a movie. I like that. Yes, there’s a lot of bad TV. But I’m also thankful to be able to disappear into these other lives and laugh, just laugh, for 20-some minutes once a week.

“When television is good, nothing is better. When it’s bad, nothing is worse.” —Newton N. Minow

Interruptions While Editing

I’m in the middle of a huge editing project. (Every page in that almost-1,000-page stack is filled with 10-point type, single spaced.) When tackling this same project in the past, I’ve only worked on it after the kids have gone to bed. This year, to avoid 2am bedtimes, I’ve started immediately after dinner. I’m not sure why, in the past, I’ve felt an obligation to continue changing diapers, playing Candy Land and reading picture books once Andy was home. Asking him to take over has made this project easier and me, a more sane person. It’s been a good lesson: That it’s OK to stop, hand over, let things go, allow the dust bunnies in the corners to sit a while longer.

I’m also trying to do some editing during the day. But, I’m often interrupted. To illustrate:

• “MOMMY! I HAVE A BOOGER!” (I look up to find Owen standing in front of me with, indeed, a huge booger on the tip of his finger.)

• “Can I have a snack?” (Sophie. I get her a small bowl of applesauce. Resume editing.) “Can I have cinnamon on my applesauce?” (I get her cinnamon. Resume editing.) “Can I have some milk, please?” (I get her milk. Resume editing.) “I need a napkin!” (I get her a napkin. Resume editing.) “I need more milk. Please.” (Give up editing.)

• “My train. My train! MOMMY! FIX MY TRAIN!” (James then falls into a sobbing heap on the floor as he can’t get his Thomas train back on its tracks. I then spend five minutes myself trying to get said train—and freight cars—back on their tracks. Only to then be told that it’s going in the wrong direction.)

• “MOMMY! James keeps calling me a cat! I’m NOT A CAT, James! I’m O.w.en.!” (Can’t resume editing until I convince James that Owen is, indeed, not a cat. And can’t resume editing until I convince Owen that James no longer believes he’s a cat.)

• “What ya doing, Mommy?” (Sophie. Who has climbed up on my bed, aka my desk. Even though Andy is home and she is supposed to be with him. I explain.) “Oh.” (She stares.) “Can I help?” (I tell her no. Explain why. She stares.) “What do all those letters say?” (I tell her what the book is about.) “I can tell you the letters if you want. I know them!” (Thank her. Ask if she’d like to have a tea party with her dolls in her room.) “What do all those marks mean?” (Explain editing marks.) “Can I have your red pen when you’re done?” (I yell for Andy.)

• OWEN JUST TOOK MY TRAIN! OWEN JUST TOOK MY PERCY! That’s MY Percy, Owen! NO! GIVE. IT. BACK. (Sob.) Owen took my Percy!” (Editing is then interrupted every 10 minutes for the timer rule. Someone gets Percy. The other person gets to push the buttons on the microwave to set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer rings, the two switch. It’s incredibly effective, except that my work is interrupted every 10 minutes.)

• silence (Something is wrong. I have to stop and check. Can almost guarantee James is sneaking some sort of food he shouldn’t be eating.)

• “MOMMY! You have to come upstairs RIGHT NOW. It’s-so-important-it’s-just-if-you-don’t-come-up-here-right-now-it’s-going-to-be-really-really-bad.” (I run upstairs. All seems fine. I ask Sophie what’s wrong.) “Can you brush my dolly’s hair?”

• (I’m sitting in bed, editing while listening to the kids laugh and scream outside my open window—my mom once told me about cassette tapes sent to soldiers with the recorded sound of children’s laughter, how popular they were, how needed. I then hear intense stomping on the hardwood stairs.) “Mommy! I have a special flower for you!” (I’m gifted a little white flower from our backyard tree—two of the petals ripped.) “Smell it!” (I do. I look at the face smiling up at me. Beaming, really. And I’m reminded that sometimes, sometimes, I love the interruptions.)

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s own or real life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life.” —C.S. Lewis

That Look

Andy comes home today! Sophie has quite the welcome-home plans for him …

My parents came over and treated us to dinner last night. And earlier in my week of solo parenting Owen and James spent the night at my parents’ house, giving me time to tackle my piles while Sophie was at preschool. My mom took this picture of Pop Pop reading to them during their stay.

Also, the sun is shining today.

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” —John Denver