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One Step Forward, One Look Back


Down time in the middle of a weekday is almost unheard of for me, but, thanks to the State of Vermont, I get it once a week for eight weeks every winter.

For the last seven years, Thing1 (and now Thing2) have been getting out of school at noon through most of the winter so that they can enjoy the winter sports that bring so many tourists to our area. The younger kids skate; older kids get to ski, and the ski resorts get to train a new generation of instructors and winter sport ambassadors. It’s popular with parents because it’s a cheap alternative to indoor phys-ed, but it’s also an almost iron-clad excuse to leave work or other responsibilities for a few hours each week.

Siting in the warm room at our local skating rink is social and relaxing. I love to reconnect with people I only wave to in the school parking lot as I watch Thing2 glide from wall to wall more steadily each week. But, as relaxing as it is, every week, it also reminds me that, as firmly planted in the Vermont lifestyle as I have become, I have not completely let go of the city girl that left Boston 13 years ago.

Today the rink is deserted except for the few families from the elementary school. The kids flow in and out of the warm room, eating between lessons as parents, unconcerned about stranger danger watch and read and chatter.

For some reason, however, even surrounded by people I know, I still find myself falling into patterns of behavior that were once obligatory in the city and suburbs. I always keep my purse zipped and wrapped around me. When I go to the snack bar, I close any computers and bring things with me – and I can see the snack bar from my usual spot 15 feet away.

Some of my paranoia is founded in experience. A lack of vigilance at a Boston restaurant led to my wallet being stolen right out of my handbag and my guard being permanently alert from then on. Days like today, however, I have to stop my looking back from making me turn back.

I doubt that I will ever leave my door unlocked like many of our neighbors do, but today, surrounded by parents of schoolmates and kids that I know are (most of the time) well-behaved, I consciously made the decision to take a step forward. Thing1, now four inches taller than his mother (he keeps track) and a bottomless pit came in requesting a top-up for his snack. He had to run to his lesson, and, alone again, I got up. Without a backward glance I sauntered to the snack, leaving my fear on the table with my computer and my bag. As luck would have it, only one thing was missing when I got back, and it wasn’t the bag or the computer.

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The Witching Hour

Witching Hour

Sometimes, after wrapping up the end of a day doing tech support while refereeing Thing1 and Thing2 as they try to avoid homework and chores by revving up for World War III, I take off.  It’s only a short escape, and in the summer, it’s still light, and I’ll drive along the Battenkill River, absorbing the sights and smells of Vermont as the pinkish-gold light of evening makes everything magical.  Now it’s winter, and my mini vacations tend to lead me to the local country store for an extended errand.

A few evenings ago I used a forgotten ingredient as my pretext for a quick break.  Most evenings the Mom of the Mom-and-Pop store is there, guiding her crew as they make closing preparations.  Traffic comes in fits and spurts, and I’ll usually grab my purchase and head to the large round, oil-cloth covered table at the back of the store by the deli to peruse one of the magazines strewn about and to chat with Mom who is also a close friend.

Most mornings this Round Table is surrounded by her Knights.  These (mostly) men of the town – retired or on their way to work – convene in shifts for a couple of hours every morning as they solve the world’s problems and discuss the deer population (which is just as heated as the politics).  The other night, however, the circle at the back of the store took on a distinctly less knightly aura.

At my bachelorette party umpteen years ago, an aunt told me, “It’s not the big things that’ll kill a marriage, it’s the little things that drive you crazy that will do it.”  It was one of those little things that had driven me to the store in search of potatoes that night.  It was my second ingredient trip in two hours and the third in two days, and when I sat down I was ready for some commiseration.  My friend took a break from her closing chores, and we began trading our anecdotes of marital merriment and madness.  We had just started to vent when a mutual friend joined us with her own war stories to share.  It wasn’t long before the chatting turned to laughter and the laughter to cackling, and I realized we’d become a coven.

As our laughter rose and my friend’s employees patiently waited out our hysteria till they could ask the boss for guidance, I remembered that gatherings like this might once been subversive enough to spark a witch trial or two.  A casual listener might have heard our conversation and thought we were plotting the downfall of men and marriage.  The reality is that, in seeking company for our momentary miseries, we each left our gathering actually appreciating our situations – married or not.  Our shrieks of laughter had fallen over me like stolen fairy dust, exorcising my exasperation over the little thing that had propelled me out of the house.  It was just the bit of magic I needed to get back and finish dinner with a smile.