My Husband’s New Wife

My husband’s new wife is a peach. I really like her. My husband is the happiest he’s ever been.

She’s the kind of woman I always thought I’d be.

She and my husband have so much in common. If they don’t have it in common, she gets it in common. If he describes the cool way the circuit-amp-breaker-plugs were wired in our new living room she says Wow that’s fascinating and doesn’t excuse herself to watch Downton Abbey.

My husband’s new wife likes war movies. She thinks chick flicks are lame. She doesn’t watch a romance and then sigh and glare at her husband and think not once have you stood in my yard with a boombox over your head blaring an 80s love song.

Even if she did like chick flicks she wouldn’t get annoyed by the term chick flicks and say then why we don’t call war movies dick flicks and my husband wouldn’t have to sigh and think Lord not this again.

My husband’s new wife thinks bacon is a food group. She does not order pizza with zucchini on it. She doesn’t know any recipes for garbanzos.

She never gets PMS. She’s never happy and sad at the same time and all weeping into the salad spinner, not knowing why she’s crying except that love is huge and pain is huge and when it all gets too big it doesn’t fit in her heart and has to come leaking out as tears.

My husband’s new wife owns makeup. And she wears it. She can shade and contour and conceal.

When she’s back from a run she changes out of the sweaty running clothes.

My husband’s new wife says thank you when he unloads the dishwasher,

thank you when he folds laundry,

thank you when he replaces the bar of soap which never happens.

She doesn’t care if he doesn’t change the toilet paper. She just changes it!

If he leaves a wet towel on the bed she just picks it up! Or lets it sit there and grow mushrooms! They eat them for dinner! Wrapped in bacon!

My husband’s new wife thinks, he does so much. He’s a good dad. He is give give give. Why bug him about stupid stuff?

Before she married my husband she dated some real losers. She remembers walking through the city alone, boot-steps on concrete. She will never forget the miracle of waking up to see this incredible person next to her. By what miracle is he here? Sharing life with her. Step by blessed step.

You don’t find this every day.

My husband’s new wife fills his car when it’s on empty. Week after week. She doesn’t say do you ever fill this thing??

She doesn’t say ever. She doesn’t say you always, you never.

When his alarm goes off at 5:00…5:07…5:14…she doesn’t knee him in the back.

She doesn’t save him the last chocolate chip cookie and then resent him for actually eating it.

She isn’t kind and generous and then needing neon signs to point out how kind and generous she is. She’s not writing the invisible book of her loveliness.

When my husband decides he’s going Paleo two days before Thanksgiving his new wife doesn’t think, oh my fucking hell. She orders a cookbook. She makes a pecan pie out of cauliflower.

My husband’s new wife doesn’t talk to him when he’s on his phone. She doesn’t frown and convey her silent judgement that he’s wasting time with this tiny screen that he could be spending talking to her.

When his new wife wants to talk, she waits until he’s ready. She can wait forever.

She’s not younger but she seems younger. She has endless energy. She thrives on tasks. She organizes coat drives. She shapes policy. She has a career she never quit, thinking it was more important to make homemade diapers out of organic cotton that she grew in her backyard. She didn’t stumble out of the preschool years, squinting into the light going, where the hell am I?

She is supremely confident and there’s nothing sexier. Your husband’s old wife would feel confident but then worried that her confidence made her arrogant. She lopped herself. She gave when she had nothing to give. She accepted emptiness.

My husband and his new wife entertain every weekend, drink apple martinis by the fire pit. She invites his college buddies, high school buddies, she doesn’t grumble and say how did she get in charge of his friends what is she his mother?

He stops working on weekends. He stops because she calmly and clearly and showing gratitude for his contributions to the household explains that this is not working for her. She asks for what she needs. And because she can do this, he hears her.

My husband’s new wife plans romantic trips to Colorado or maybe Zurich. It is assumed that time together is more important than elite swim camps for the kids.

My husband’s new wife loves our children, to pieces, but she does not let them dictate their lives. They sleep in their own beds. Their needs are not more important than hers. Or their needs as a couple. How could there be anything more important, she says, than the well-being of the people responsible for the children’s well-being?

It makes so much sense when she says it.

My husband’s new wife feeds on chaos. It fuels her. She likes when two kids and a husband talk to her all at the same time while the phone’s ringing and the timer’s going off and possibly in the oven is a small fire. Her hair doesn’t pop out on end like she’s been electrocuted.

My husband’s new wife is everything he wanted, all he dreamed of. Everything his mother wanted for him, when she gazed at him in his crib, wondering who was out there for her beautiful baby boy. My husband is happier than he’s ever been. He wonders why sometimes it seemed so hard.

Not any more, dear husband. Your new wife is coming.

2015.

It’s still a new year. It’s still possible.

I am your old wife.

And your new wife.

I’m really going to like her.

I’m going to like them both.

Why You Will Never Be Happy

When you have a baby who has Down syndrome you find out that almost everyone in the world has a cousin with Down syndrome and they all work at a grocery store.

And they’re all incredibly happy.

You know, I hope most people are happy. I hope all kids are happy. And babies.

Are people as a species so unhappy that my now five-year old daughter reading library books on the couch stands out in such contrast?

There are many ways I would describe my daughter – brigadier general comes to mind – but I wouldn’t describe either of my kids as happy. Just like I wouldn’t describe them as people who breathe. Or sleep. Or clip their fingernails. There are just a lot of words I would use first.

I did have a new acquaintance tell me that my daughter was very loving. I looked around to see if we meant the same girl. It was indeed the one dog-piling her big brother. Thank you, I said.

It seems like we all want to be happy. Pills, teas, lavender lotions. Link after book after glossy magazine:

Are You Happy?
Five Signs That You Could Be Happier
Twenty Simple Ways To Get Happy

In the Parenting section is The Happiest Kid (Toddler, Child and I believe Teenager) on the Block.

As a special needs parent, I’m not sure happy is all you’re going for. I’m guessing you want more.

No one watches a nine-year old in a chess tournament and says, “She’s so happy!” The Happiest Child finishes soccer practice, piano lessons and French homework. Then she does her happy flashcards.

Maybe happy is what we work on when the checklist is done.

If you have Down syndrome, no one thinks you have a checklist. You float around finding ways to keep busy while the rest of us have real lives. And the reason we don’t find this a waste is because we tell ourselves people with Down syndrome are: happy.

Do we really want to give away “happy” to a sub-group? Remember the Native Americans who gave away Manhattan. We might want it back. Think it through.

Sometimes I dream that my daughter with Down syndrome will actually become a giant pill. A crank in a beret. I was secretly proud the day she dressed herself in all-black for preschool, Johnny Cash-style.

Do we typicals want to be happy, but only after we’ve earned our PhD’s? How do we want to be described in the Christmas newsletter? “Justin is so happy. He is forty-five years old. And just so darn happy.”

Isn’t it weird how happy can sound pathetic? When it’s on the cover of Cosmo it doesn’t sound pathetic. It sounds hot.

How will we get the right kind of happy? I want the good happy. The best happy. I want the happy that gets me my own parking spot.

Deep down, do any of us ever think happy is actually kind of optional? The icing on our achievement cake? If you had a choice between massive wealth or simple happiness, would any of us hedge our bets and go for the dough? I mean, how bad could it be?

When I Googled “Am I happy?” there were 1,470,000 results.

When I Googled “I am happy” in the declarative-  there were only 1,120,000 results – 350 million fewer. And most of them were the Pharell Williams song.

So I took the Oprah “Are You Happy Quiz?” to see if I was happy. It turns out I am. I was kind of surprised. The dark clouds, the Pacific Northwest rain, after two weeks it already seems endless.

I scored between 52-70. This placed me in the category “Your smile is your guide.” I’m happy.

Then it was my five year-old daughter’s turn. Since she has Down syndrome, I thought I should test this once and for all.

I found out that:

Yes, she feels better when she gives unconditionally to others.
No, she does not dwell on people who disappoint her.
No, she did not feel her life would truly begin only when the right circumstances came along.

She does not think giving a present is better than getting one.

She. should. get. what. she. wants.

Not getting what she wants does not help her develop as a person.

Life is good and she appreciates what she has.

She has no trouble making her health a priority.

All totaled, she only scored between a 30-49. This puts her in the category of “Needs to Look on the Bright Side More Often.” She’s “not miserable”.

But she is not happy.

She hopped off the chair to finish her puzzle. Red barn, spotted cows. A snack bowl of snap peas.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

 

Is Gratitude a Sham?

Lately I’ve been having trouble with gratitude. Sometimes it feels like a sham. Like another thing people do to make themselves feel better, like go to church and eat organic food.
(I go to church and eat organic food.)

How could there be anything wrong with being thankful for all you have? Keeping a gratitude journal? Posting the list on Facebook and challenging others to do the same?Who gets skeptical about “feeling blessed”?

And I do feel blessed. I have so much to be grateful for. My life has included cancer surgery, radiation, divorce. It’s not like I’m sitting here with my golden ticket saying, sucks to be you, because at many points in my life it has sucked to be me. When I wake up and I’m healthy, trust me, I’m grateful. When my kids wake up and they’re healthy, I am grateful. Like you have no idea. Thank God.

But sometimes my “gratitude” feels a little too much like “whew”.

Today, at least, we were safe.

And then I feel guilty. Grateful but guilty.

My husband is a police officer. He once made a traffic stop when he was working the night shift. It was two or three in the morning, the couple – the parents – were on their way to drop off a drug delivery. Their toddler was in the back seat buckled into a car seat. Across the tray of the car seat the parents had scattered a bag of Skittles for him to eat. At three am. On the way. To the drug drop.

What is that dear child of God grateful for today?

Sometimes gratitude seems like another way to talk about luck.

Sometimes gratitude seems like heads when you called heads. Tails when you called tails. Heads my kids get Bob’s Red Mill Organic Steel Cut Oats. Tails your kid gets red-Skittled saliva dripping down his chin.

Not only that, but it’s healthy for us to be grateful. To boot! Like a supplement. If you have food, water and shelter you will live longer. And if you’re grateful for those things you will live even longer. It’s an upward spiral.

Something about this seems convenient.

I drew a long straw today. Who knows about tomorrow. I better keep being grateful. It’s worked so far. Lucky socks. Rabbits feet. Thank you God. I really like the stuff you brought today. See me being grateful. Do you see me, God? Wow, what a servant. Makes you want to keep it coming, huh?

While I’m ostensibly a Christian I’m not a very good one and if I’m honest I have to admit that I would thank ANYONE if it kept my husband and children safe and healthy. False gods? Of course I worship false gods, I worship New Seasons, I worship flax seed smoothies, I worship Oprah and her columnists, I worship Hanna Andersson long johns, I worship my emergency preparedness kit in the basement, for a time I appeared to worship Thomas the Tank Engine, believing that collecting the entire line of trains would keep my three-year old encircled in an oval track of safety/happiness/contentment. A rosary of steam engines.

There are children in India who live on mountains of trash. I do not want to live on a mountain of trash. I do not want my children to live on a mountain of trash. I promise you if the Flemings end up living on a mountain of trash that I will not find one single thing to be grateful for and if you tell me to write in a daily gratitude journal I’m going to tell you to fuck off. Fuck off you happy blessed person. Fuck off and get me off this fucking mountain of trash.

Tails.

My son’s word since he started first grade has been random. A random kid at school, a random Lego guy, for a snack he asks for a “random” blueberry muffin. Random: not part of a pattern. Unpredictable. Without cause.

Babies learn cause-effect. You drop the rattle. I pick it up.  You cry. I pick you up. As grownups, we still see the effects. Do we ever stop looking for causes? Do we ever stop looking for the big cosmic mama? Do we think we keep getting the good life because we are thankful for it? Are we scared, possibly terrified of what can and does happen in this world, and have to try something?

My greatest fear is that I will get cancer again and die and leave my babies alone in this world without a mother. My son loves me “so much it makes the moon look like the tip of a marker pen.” My daughter has Down syndrome. I believe in her more than anyone in the entire world. Who will be her army general without me? What would happen to her life?

I can’t breathe.

If expressing my gratitude keeps our winning streak going, I will do it. I’m missing the whole point I’m sure, but I’ll do it. On with gratitude. On with thanks! I would thank God, goddesses, Life, Creators, or a sequined skunk on meth if it could promise me I will get to finish raising my children.

My seven-year old said something to me the other day. He said, “One thing I notice, Mom, is that you say thank you to people a lot of times they don’t say you’re welcome back.” I knew what he meant. You’re welcome gets dropped.

Maybe that’s my problem. I’m dragging on the you’re welcomes. Maybe thank you is like a hot potato. Maybe by the time you say thanks you should have passed the thing on that you’re saying thank you for.

Wake up in a warm house, say thanks, get dressed and help someone else find a house. Wake up healthy, say thanks, and drive off to help someone who’s not healthy.

Say your “thank you” but by the -ou” part you should be out the door.

Maybe thank you is too hot to hold. Maybe that’s my trouble with gratitude: my blessings are burning my hands.

Maybe, oh maybe, that’s why sometimes it hurts.

5 Things I (Still) Don’t Get About Facebook

For some people, Facebook is an escape. For me, it’s heading right into the rats-den.

Do I “Like” enough?
Can you Like too much? Do other Facebook people shake their heads and say, “Geez she Likes a lot.” If you like too many things do people think you’re easy? “Oh that Like doesn’t mean anything, she’ll Like anything.”

Why do some people never Like me? Ever? Not even once?
Am I not interesting? Do I not select visually appealing photographs? I never did learn to use that Instagram thing. You can say a lot with sepia.

I’ve posted my kids, they’re super cute. They do cute things. If you’d read you’d see what a cute thing they said. What are you, made of stone?

I should get a cat.

Or are they not even reading it? Are people just scrolling past me, looking for their real friends? Looking for athletic-shoe freebies?

I should get my Mom on Facebook.

Did you accept my friend request only to dump me in some “Group” abyss of people you never have to think about again?
Every now and then I think, huh, I swore so-and-so and I were friends but come to think of it I have never actually seen a single post. Maybe they are really super busy. Maybe they are “on” Facebook but “never go on it.” Or maybe they relegated me to a group. A group called “Flotsam” or “Miscellaneous Past Acquiantances” or “untitled” because it’s not even worth your time to give all us social lint-bunnies a name.

How soon until we become intimate?
We had ninth grade English together. Teamed up for a project on The Merchant of Venice. It was a really fun English class. We did real good on Shakespeare. Pound of flesh and all that. Super good.

I haven’t seen or talked to you in 29 years. Except for the A on our team project and a vague remembrance of your red and white Norsport sneakers, I don’t know anything about you. Twenty-nine years later, the first post I see of yours is that after years of infertility, you are pregnant with twins. A boy and a girl. That’s fabulous.

Do I jump out of the past with a giant banner shrieking “Congratulations!” It seems kinda personal. Like I haven’t earned that kind of closeness. When we met I didn’t even have my period. And now we’re all up in your uterus. I signed your yearbook with bubble letters. Are we frozen in time? Today we are not in each other’s lives. The only reason we are now connected is because of an experience from the past. If we leave the past, do we actually have anything? Should I comment on your post with a cascade of rainbow hearts? Is there an emoticon for Olivia Newton-John? I want this to work.

When do I Like and when do I Comment?
Did I mention I’m an introvert? Likes are better for introverts. And lazy people. Are some people just Likers and some Commenters? Dogs/cats? Boxers/briefs? Liking seems a lot easier. Like microwaving water for tea instead of waiting for the boring old kettle.

Elan Morgan (www.schmutzie.com) has a great article about how she stopped Liking for two weeks and made herself write out comments. She felt more connected, which is what this is supposed to be all about. Right? Right?!!

But to Comment, I have to think of something. I have to spell, construct parts of language. And what if I comment and someone already made that comment which is fine if it’s a no-brainer like “Happy birthday” or “Have a great time at OysterFest!” but not if it’s something more complicated like “I never knew you could drive and take movies at the same time! Eeks!” But maybe the Eeks sounds like I’m reprimanding. Maybe the whole thing sounds judgmental. I should read the other comments first. This is taking too long. Never mind, just Like it.

There is a strong suggestion from Wise People that says throw it all out there, fly your flag, open your heart… it all sounds good except: I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want to expend more of my personal stock of warmth and caring than is ABSOLUTELY WARRANTED. This feels important.

We’re friends. Really. We are.
I sent you a friend request – thinking of that chunk of time we shared, the talks, the thoughts. You accepted my friend request. So I’m all thinking, oh you remember too.

I run into you at a wedding. It’s been years. Last time I saw you we were both young. We hug. We are glad to see each other. You wrinkle your eyebrows, “I think maybe we’re friends on Facebook or something?” The “or something” is a dagger. I feel like the over-eager little sister. “Yeah,” I say. Here I’ve been Liking, maybe even going to Facebook Second Base by leaving a Comment. Here I thought we were at least remotely connected, when actually, in Facebook world, the only world we now share, you don’t know I’m alive.

The next time I see one of her posts, I see that she has 996 friends. We are not actually friends. We are people together in the mall during a super awesome shoe sale.

How do I keep from being the 1st to Like something?
I’ve come across a post that was great, enlightening, a cool photo that reaches across boundaries to unite and inspire. And my impulse has been, “Amazing!” I get my pointer finger ready, ready to tap that Like button with enthusiasm.

Then I realize. No one has Liked it yet. And I’m not actually that close to this person. We worked together ten years ago. In different departments no less. Hmmm. When was this posted? Seven minutes ago. I could Like and hope others Like after me. SOON after. I don’t want to be the one Liker dangling out there. That would seem way too intimate. That would seem like me and the Poster were closer than we are. It would be like we were a two-some, a team, maybe even dating.

If the post has been there for hours and NO ONE has Liked or Commented, I’m sorry, I’m not touching it. You’ll have to hang out here, in your brilliance, alone.

Maybe by your next post, I will have become a stronger person.

A lot of people would like that.

 

 

From PO to LO: Is There Life After Portland?

Link

Is there life after Portland, home of the weird? This week we move to Lake Oswego, Oregon, home of the…?

Stereotypes work both ways. In many ways, Portland’s hip weird alternative reputation is just another stereotype. I mean, I live here, I seemingly fit in. And I can attest on a stack of compost that I am nowhere close to hip.

I know this, I always felt at home in Portland. Over the years I wandered, searching for home in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. Waiting for home to hit me in the face. When I moved back from the East Coast for the third and final time, and I came up over the Marquam Bridge from the airport, where Tom McCall Park and the waterfront first rise into view, it was like the hole inside me was healed. And I thought, maybe home doesn’t hit you in the face. Maybe home hugs you in the gut.

The forests, the Willamette, the bridges, Mount Hood. The glowing articles in the New York Times talk about Portland’s cupcakes and whiskey bars. It’s true, there are a lot of nice blocks with a lot of nice places. But when you live your life here, you know where Portland is. To see Portland, you look up and around. To see Portland, you see the clouds, ten feet over your head. And they remind you that here, things are close to you.

So now the moving truck heads ten miles south. When we tell our Portland friends we found a house they are excited! “Where is it?” Expecting the old Portland neighborhoods – Laurelhurst, Sellwood, Eastmoreland. We say Lake Oswego and they say:

“Oh.”

This past year alone we have met families from Chicago, New York, Ohio, Michigan, another from New York, another from Michigan, southern California, Arizona, central California, another from central California, and more I’m forgetting. Portland has become a meet-up spot. These people didn’t pack up their lives and move two thousand miles to come to an off-shoot, a shadow, a little sister of Portland. They came for what was promised in the ad.

To Portlanders, I believe, Lake Oswego is:

a bunch of rich white people

conformist

homogenous

without culture

without sidewalks

a foodie wasteland

Or maybe these are my own fears.

I know this, crime is lower, schools are smaller, and you can hear birds. It is my feeling that I will be able to let my children play in our front yard. I also know this: in Portland I almost never ride my bike, I repeatedly drive the car when I could have walked, and I’ve never been to organic ocean-sustainable Bamboo Sushi but buy the eight pack in the plastic tray from Trader Joe’s. (Which I drive to.)

Maybe Portland was the possibility. That I might one day put on an ironic cowboy hat and direct an art film in my driveway.  That I might tear up the front lawn and grow a one-loaf-a-summer patch of wheat. That I one day might loosen the shackles that weld me to safety and conformity. That I might be everything I am free to be. Marlo Thomas. There is a land that I see, take my hand and we’ll run, it’s right out the window. In Portland the best was yet to come.

In Portland you never grow old.

In ways then, our move to the suburbs feels like a door closing. That we are going there to build the final nest, our children’s base camp as they age and launch into adulthood. This move is for them, not us.

Moving to Lake Oswego feels like getting married. Not that I was a crazy single person -but the options were there. In the suburbs it seems there is an expectation, a commitment to the stable. There may be nights spent downtown in a hotel after a night of turtle soup and Afghani film, but I will never again live here. I will never be: from Portland, for seventeen years the coolest thing, by far, that could be said about me. I have no idea why at this age I still give any credence to anything as shallow and immature as the word “cool”.

I tried to make it work. Raising kids in the city. The diversity, as we say. Sure everyone was actually white like us, but there were different KINDS of white people. There were white people on homemade unicycles, white people with beards down to their high tops, there were white people dressed up as kitty cats. What better place to teach the children that there is a place for you here in this world, whatever you are.

It got harder to explain the man who stormed down our sidewalk as we unlocked our front door. “DON’T GO IN THERE! DON’T YOU DARE GO IN THERE!!!” he shouted at us, high on meth.

And now that my son can read, free-speech redolent Portland offers a highway lined with darkened parlors full of naked dancers. There’s not a route to the dentist that doesn’t pass a strip joint. I did okay explaining “Lucky Devil”. It got harder to explain Hot Hot Hot Girls. And why they were so sweaty.

I’m scared to move to Lake Oswego. I’m excited to move to Lake Oswego. The truck comes Saturday. Have we hidden our treasures in faceless cardboard? How will we arrange this new life? Will there be a place for everything we’re bringing? What will be missing?

The road goes south. In geologic time, it’s a blip. In the context of the globe and the millions of people and what people struggle through, this is nothing. We’re heading down the road, to see what we find there.

Down Syndrome Goes on a Field Trip

The school days are the hardest. For me as a mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, that’s where the pressure is. If she fusses and whines at church – all is forgiven. In the grocery store, it’s practically expected of young children. At Thanksgiving, the relatives agree she is either a) tired b) coming down with something or c) full.

School. School is where it’s all being tested. School is make or break. Will she make it? Can my four year old daughter with Down syndrome cut it in the real world?

Most days, maybe all of them, I would say she can. She is so close to where other kids are. Academically, emotionally, socially. But today – field trip day – I start to doubt. For a moment, I think I’ve had my head in the sand. For a moment, I think, maybe it’s time to face facts. For a moment I think maybe I’ve been so busy believing, that maybe I couldn’t see what really is.

Today – part of a six week investigation on chocolate – voted on by the students, the class is visiting a local chocolate factory. As usual with my kids (both kids) I prepare my daughter for what’s going to happen. I will drop her off in the morning at school, then come back in an hour to drive her and a friend to the chocolate factory. She gets it. When I leave she says she will see me later. Hug. Kiss. Mwah.

In an hour I return with the other chaperones. There’s a happy educational din of children putting on jackets, clutching their research clipboards, parents jangling car keys, the teachers giving instructions.

All I hear is my daughter.

In their efficiency, the teachers made a color-coded string necklace for each child with their names and cell numbers. Each child is wearing one, the laminated safety information dangling at their tummies.

My daughter is not whining exactly. Not crying. Not yelling. It’s like the sound if a small person, perhaps reduced by a shrink-ray, screamed “no” into a pillow. It’s a sound that makes her classmates stare. It makes their parents stare, until they remember to look away. It makes even her lovely, open-minded teachers glance at me. I imagine their look saying: “You got anything?”

Here’s what I’ve got. I’ve got thirty people waiting for me to figure this out so we can go. I crouch down and put my face inches from hers and say in a low voice, low like Darth Vader, you have to wear it. Willing the depth of my voice to make her put it on. Summoning the power of parenting from a bygone era when children obeyed and that was okay. She said, no I don’t like the necklace. Her articulation is off the charts! Stay focused. I say if you want to go on the field trip you have to wear it. In five seconds I’ve bypassed three volumes of creative parenting and have landed at the chapter on Threats.

She says no. She says I don’t want to.

I look around again. All the children are wearing the necklaces. All the children have shiny shoes, freshly pressed trousers and are fluent in French, German, and one of those lost languages that only thirteen people left in the world can speak.

And my heart rips itself in half.

In general, I want her to say no, loud and clear, for reasons I can barely acknowledge. For four years, almost five, we have taught her that it’s her body and she makes the decisions about her body and what touches it. It’s her mouth and she decides what goes in it. I have sat holding the toothbrush until my forearm hurts waiting for her to open her mouth, on her own. Later I will show her what to do if someone tries to make a decision about her body. I will show her where to aim and how hard. Her ability to say no is an answered prayer. Already I see that this girl speaks up. She stands up for herself. Someday I won’t be with her.

But from the little I see about the public education system, where my daughter is heading, I’m not sure they appreciate the girl who sticks to her guns no matter how many levels of educational arrows are being slung at her. There was a Far Side cartoon years ago with a picture of thousands of indistinguishable penguins. A mass, a mob, maybe even a classroom of thirty-four? And one little guy in the back jumps up and sings, “I gotta be me, I just gotta be me.” It’s a great cartoon, it speaks to a lot of people. But in public school, that little penguin is getting an IEP.

So yes, I’m a little torn about the necklace. I can see where it’s coming from. But how to explain to the hallway full of parents, children and educators that honestly deep down, while I’m trying to be a team player here, while my whole reason for being is for her to be part of the group, I don’t really want her to have to wear a necklace if she doesn’t want to. And the reason I am deep down secretly proud that she won’t put it on is because I’m afraid it will lead one day to a fellow high school student inviting her to a house after school to be used or ridiculed. To someone on her front porch trying to con her into giving away her VISA number. Is it only the truly paranoid mother who could make the leap from being forced to wear something around her neck to sexual assault?

But then what is my daughter thinking? I’ve already softly growled that if she doesn’t put this $*#(@ necklace on she’s off the field trip. What is she thinking? Mom’s inconsistent. She cares too much what people are thinking. Mom’s stressed out and it makes her make poor parenting choices.

She would be right on all counts.

We agree that she will hold the necklace in her hand. I think this is a small victory. (Why does only a “victory” make me feel like a competent parent?)

The chocolate factory gives us a warm welcome. Factory is not the right word. It’s a family-owned, chocolate-making boutique close to residential neighborhoods and parks. Incredibly, one of the owners names is Charlie. We line up outside. It’s sunny, not too warm. The scent is chocolatey and woodsy.

My daughter is lined up with her classmates. She’s holding her research clipboard. Her research partner, a friend and a really neat girl, is next to her. They came up with a research question together. The kids are so good. They’re all on their best behavior. A lady from the chocolate factory comes out. She is so glad to see us. She is so glad we came. Welcome welcome.

I look at my daughter, listening and smiling. I’m in love with education. With learning. With trying and failing. I’m so proud of her. We can do this.

The lady holds out a mass of something pale brown and kind of fluffy. She peels off something beige and soft, soft as a fluffy chick. She holds it out. There’s just one more thing, she says, before we go in.

Everyone will need to wear a hair net.