Re: Student Share Night, but really, just a bunch of nonsense

My son is good at being sneaky. And he wants to wear shades.
I’m glad my son has recognized his marketable skills early in life.

Last night was “Student Share Night” at Bini’s school. In my day, we called it open house, but whatever. Bini’s teacher told him he “had” to come, and although we’d planned to, I don’t like being told what to do, which should give you an idea of what kind of student I was.

Anyway, there was a frozen-yogurt social afterward (because it’s healthier than ice cream), and I volunteered to help scoop toppings. You probably don’t know this about me, but I slung fro-yo in my day. Yep. Yogurt Park, a Walnut Creek, Calif., institution, where the small size was medium and if you wanted a small, you ordered a mini. DUH. For three straight summers, I perfected the art of calling out “Can I help who’s next?” while looking supremely bored.

Bini was alternately nervous and excited as we fought our way through the thick crowd on the way to his classroom. There, he showed us what he’s been up to since September. Holy mackerel. They do so much WORK, and some of these kids have better penmanship than I do. We looked at his Suessy sentence, and his book of self portraits since the start of the year (in September, Bini drew his arms coming right out of his giant square torso; this month, he’s got arms and shoulders and perfectly rendered hair). We saw his “What I want to be when I grow up,” and my kid wants to be a secret agent. Could be worse. One kid wanted to be a princess ballerina, and her parents have to figure out how to break it to her.

I had to split a bit early and make my way to the mosh pit that was the gym, where people were queuing up for miles to have Menchie’s frozen yogurt. (All they had was vanilla, which was just my damn luck.) I muscled my way up to the front, where there were nine tables of volunteers scooping out toppings: chocolate chips, two kinds of sprinkles, some sort of crunchy chocolate cereal I didn’t recognize, and chocolate and caramel syrup. It was complete chaos, which is what you’d expect in an elementary school gym where they’re giving out free frozen desserts to a bunch of kids. Seeing no order to the situation, I walked up to toppings-scoopers and offering to relieve them. One woman finally agreed, so I stepped in next to another mom.

“Let’s try and split it up,” she said. “You do the caramel and chocolate sauces, and I’ll do the scooping.” She was probably a project manager in real life. This system worked for about three minutes, and after getting goop all over myself I noticed that the other volunteers had on gloves. I walked off to glove up, and when I came back 80 seconds later, there was another volunteer in my spot, grimly squirting sauces.

“Oh hey — I can slip back in here. Just needed to put gloves on,” I said.

“I’ve got it,” was the terse reply.

Okee doke. I was ready to find my family and go home to find some chocolate when the harried organizer rushed past, looking like she might have a nervous breakdown. “Oh thank God,” she nearly sobbed. “Can you PLEASE help out on table nine? She’s all alone and it’s just crazy.”

Table nine was indeed busy, but it wasn’t like Altamont or nothin’. Me and my topping compatriot worked congenially, side by side. She seemed to grasp that this was a happy thing, delivering sugar to people.  And it was an interesting experience, topping vanilla frozen yogurt for the school population and their families. The kids, by and large, had better manners than their parents. One grandmother dug her hand into my chocolate chips and shoved them into her mouth, dropping strays onto the table.

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you not to do that,” I said. “If you’d like some toppings, I can put them in a cup for you.”  She grunted and walked away, munching.

Shortly, it was 7:45 and the cleanup crew (again, volunteer parents) was on the case, breaking down tables and kicking people out. Which was fine. I went outside to find Steve and Bini on the “lower playground” (the “upper playground” is for “big kids,” according to my son). I managed to catch Bini doing the whole monkey bars, all by himself, while Serena, the adorable pigtailed girl from his class, watched from below. When he hopped down, she gave him a hug. He let her.

On the way home, we ran into another family from the street and we walked home together. “Do you remember elementary school being like this?” asked Amir, our neighbor, who himself had a rigorous education in Israel. All of the adults agreed that we didn’t. But I’m not going on again about that.


It’s been a year since my best friend died.

I loved her so much.
I loved her so much.

It was a year ago today that my beautiful Sophie died. A whole year. I’m another year older, my kid is in kindergarten, I’ve been to Paris. But my Sophie is still gone.

It was a gorgeous, early spring day, March 25. Steve and Bini had left, it was preschool day, and I was racing out the door to go somewhere. Steve had fed Sophie; her bowls were downstairs. She was downstairs all of the time in that last year. She was too weak to make the trek up the indoor stairs, so she was alone a lot. She slept most of the time.

That morning, I found her collapsed, next to her food and water bowls. She looked at me, bewildered, and I remember thinking, “No, no, no, no NO. No, goddammit. I’m not ready. ” Because I knew this was It. She’d been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma seven months prior, and the dog oncologist had told us four to six months. I didn’t listen. I believed she’d beat it, somehow.

I was hysterical, the way you are when you find your best friend in a really bad way. I tried to coax her to eat, but she couldn’t stand. I tried to hold her up, but her legs kept buckling. So I called Steve and shrieked out something, and he rushed back. Thank God Bini was at school that horrible day. Steve and I were not fit to parent.

It didn’t go well at the vet. This is a pretty horrible story, so if you don’t feel like crying today, I might skip it. We got her to the vet and they examined her and told us that she was bleeding internally. She was dying. If she came home with us, she’d die a terrible death. If we left her there they could keep her alive for maybe another day, but she’d be without us. So we decided to put her down.

If you’ve ever done this, you know how it goes: They give you time to “say goodbye.” It’s ludicrous. When are you ever ready to say goodbye? But we did our best and we cried so much that we went through a box of tissues. Then, they sedated her and we sat with her as they gave her “the shot.” And here’s the truly terrible part, the part that still keeps me up at night: She didn’t die. She had no circulation in her legs, where they gave the shot, so the drug didn’t get to her heart. They had to try several times before it took, and during that time, I was like an insane person, raving that I wanted to stop, that I wanted to take her home. I truly lost my mind for a couple of days. But that’s what happens when you kill your best friend.

I still see her, lying there. My glorious, gorgeous dog. If you’d ever met her, you’d agree — she was magnificent. A year later, I still can’t think about my sweet Sophie on the cold, hard ground without completely going to pieces.

Grief has weight to it. It takes every bit of your energy. Those first few days I felt like I was trudging uphill with rocks in my pockets. I did the bare minimum, begging off from everything that I possibly could. I kept her bowls as they were, with her uneaten food still in it. I buried my face in her blankets, trying to remember her smell, the feel of her fur. I created a shrine on her extra-large heated dog bed, with her well-loved stuffed toys. One day, about a week after she died, I came in to find Jinx, our cat, sleeping there. I started screaming “Get off her bed! Get off!” Jinx scampered off (and knowing her, probably peed on my shoes). I felt like I was losing my mind. Who grieved like this for a pet?

There were people who got it, who called me and wrote me e-mails and left care packages on my front doorstep. My mom, who adored Sophie, wrote a beautiful poem about her. My good friend texted me that she was going to get my son from preschool and keep him for the afternoon. She knew I was in no shape to be any kind of decent mother. Another friend told me that she went to a grief support group when her dog died. It made me feel less insane.

There were those who didn’t get it, who asked me things like “are you still upset?” when I clearly was still upset. I pulled away from those friends and I’ve kept my distance. Thankfully, I have more people in my life with empathy than without.

Two months later, we got another dog. I found Jones on Petfinder and I knew, just by looking at his silly face, that he was our dog. Some people questioned whether it was too soon, and in truth, it might have been, a little. But we needed a bit of joy in the house. Sophie’s long illness and our intense grief had left us wrung out and empty. We needed something to fill that void.

Jones is a different dog than Sophie, in pretty much every single way. Where she was regal, Jones is goofy. Sophie didn’t go in much for playing fetch; Jones’ singular obsession is the Chuckit. Sophie gently gnawed on her stuffed animals; Jones eviscerates antlers. Sophie was a dignified, once-a-day pooper; Jones passes gas all day long, and quite unselfconsiously. Sophie loved the snow; Jones high-steps through it like he’s walking on tar. But that’s OK. I’m glad Jones isn’t like Sophie. I couldn’t replace her if I tried. How do you replace your best friend?


What the hell am I supposed to do with these?

This came home from school this week. I have no context regarding this project, and Bini keeps trying to eat the marshmallows.
This came home from school this week. I have no context regarding this project, and Bini keeps trying to eat it.

On Friday, Bini came home with four marshmallow creations (one is not pictured here, as it is too large). He laid them out on our kitchen island and said “Look Mommy. What I made.”

“Those are awesome, buddy. What are they?” I asked.

“They’re marshmallows.” Bini gave me an odd look. “Can I eat them now?”

“No. And I know they’re marshmallows. But what was your teacher trying to teach with the marshmallows?”

Another odd look. “I dunno. Why can’t I eat them?”

So now, dear readers, I’m stuck with four rapidly stiffening marshmallow-and-toothpick sculptures of an undefined purpose. They defy stacking, and I can’t really Scotch-tape them to the wall, with Bini’s other high art. After Bini snitched two marshmallows, I moved the projects to the office, dumping ground of all things I don’t know what to do with.

Moms (and dads): What are we supposed to do with all the stuff they bring home? Are we supposed to save it all? Every bit of it? Because I’m gonna confess right now: I don’t. I pitch his stuff all the time — usually the worksheets they do in class, like Lesson 8-4: Problem Solving. That’s not the stuff I’ll look back on with fondness when I’m enfeebled. The stuff I keep is the stuff that shows some of my kid’s personality — the funny in-class assignment where my Ethiopian son declared winter his favorite season. And I like to look back at his work from September, just to marvel at how much he’s learned in the past year. That stuff I’ll keep. But the marshmallow art project? That’s destined for the trash bin. Or the compost-and-recycling bins. This is Seattle, after all. 

I’m sure there’s a mom out there reading this with tears in her eyes. I’m sure she’s thinking something like this:  “How could you even consider pitching even a single scrap of your dear one’s work? Someday, when your husband has left you for a 50-year-old trollop and your kids don’t talk to you, you’ll think back on this day and wish you’d saved that finger-painted Japanese wind sock.” Perhaps. But right now, we’re trying to get our house ready to sell, and I am trashing all kinds of things — my snapshots from sixth grade, the airline ticket stubs from my solo trip to Spain, the drawing Bini did of a cat when he was 3. It’s all just stuff. We’ll surely make more.

There’s a ghost in my house

Green chair
This is where the ghost sits.

Around Halloween last year, Bini decided there was a ghost in the house. But rather than be afraid of the ghost, he wanted to engage with it. Or rather, he wanted me to engage with it. So, while he hid under a blanket on my lap, I was supposed to talk to it.

“What should I say?” I whispered to the lump on my lap.

“Tell him about me!” Bini hissed back.

The ghost sat in our green chair, across from the sofa in our living room. The ghost wasn’t supposed to know that Bini was there, so I lied about his whereabouts. I told the ghost that Bini was in kindergarten, that he was doing really well, that he played soccer. I told the ghost what Bini’s favorite foods were, who his best friends were, and which TV shows he preferred. If Bini showed himself, I got to tickle him. I know. Weird game. But it went on for a couple of weeks and then, mercifully, went away. I was running out of things to say to the ghost.

Yesterday, I was walking the horde of neighborhood children up to school. Timmy, Bini’s friend, told us that his parents were going to San Francisco for the weekend.

“My mom and dad lived there, for like, 20 or 30 years, or something,” said Bini.

“And you’re adopted,” said Timmy.

“I know that!” Bini snarled.

I’ve read tons of adoption books and articles, I’ve been to the support groups and trawled online forums. I knew this moment was coming, but when it did, I panicked. I said something in a fake bright voice like, “That’s right, he’s adopted!” but by then the horde was busy trying to kick moss off the sidewalk.

Bini hung back a bit and I could tell that he was trying not to cry. I sent the kids on ahead and talked to him for a few minutes. He was mad at Timmy. He was sad. He felt different. So I walked with him, hand in hand, until we got to the roundabout where parents drop off their kids. He told me he was OK from there, and as he ran for the doors, he looked back a few times to wave. When he opened the door, I blew him a kiss, and he blew one back.

That afternoon, when he got home from school, he went to the sofa. “I want to play ghost again.”

It had been awhile, so I had a lot of things to tell the ghost — we’d been to California, to Portland, to Sun Peaks. Bini was reading. Bini had learned to ski. Bini was still playing soccer, but he had leveled up, to the “Skills Institute.” I told the ghost that Bini had gone to a sock hop and that he was doing drama after school on Fridays.

“Tell him I miss my birth mom,” Bini whispered, from under the blanket.

“Bini really misses his birth mom,” I said. “I know he thinks about her every day, all the time, and that he wishes he could see her. And he misses his birth dad, too,” I looked at the empty green chair. “Maybe if you see them, you can tell them that.”

Bini pushed the blanket off his head and turned to face me. “I love you, Mom,” he said, very seriously. He kissed my cheek and hugged me, hard. Bini thinks kissing is gross and shrieks in horror every time I try to plant one. So this was kind of a big deal.

Maybe I knew all along that the ghost was a proxy for Bini’s birth parents. But until yesterday, I didn’t realize what an honor it was that he had chosen me to communicate with them.