En grève

DSC05747A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of sandals from a shoemaker in Nice. These sandals, they’re two pieces of leather nailed together and, while ideal for strolling through charming, ancient streets, they are truly terrible for running through recently renovated airports. The motion of flat sandals hitting flat concrete is painful, as it turns out. I wasn’t aware of this until a few weeks ago when I had to run through an airport. We had made a good guess at when we should have left the house in order to get there on time, but then we left about half an hour later than that. We ended up dealing with two agents because of course we had to redistribute the contents of our luggage as we were all of a kilo over the allowance. One of the agents, while handing us our boarding passes, said “ah, yeah, so you might, ah, just want to keep an eye on the boards because the French air traffic controllers might strike,” while the other one said something really useful like “uh, you’d want to get a move on, your gate’s closing in like ten minutes,” as though we could do anything about the fact of Time. We ran to the security gate, only to realise we’d left one of our boarding passes behind. Back I ran to the desk and then back again to security, my sandals slap, slap, slapping all the while. My bladder began to feel sloshy.

We ran the whole long way to the gate and got there with a few minutes to spare.

“I have to go to the loo,” I say to Joseph.

“Hold onto it!” he says.

“I’m bursting,” I say.

“Go!”

I get to the toilet but I’m not really bursting. I just have one of those lacklustre nervous wees. Not as relieved as I’d hoped, I re-join Joseph and Boone, just in time to hear the announcement that our flight has been cancelled. No explanation, just a flat instruction to reclaim our baggage and go back to the departures hall. I want to do what Boone does, which is cry and wail “but I want to go to Nice noooooow! The pebbly beach! Whaaaaaaa.” But instead, I have to swallow back the tears and anger and try not to take it personally or let thoughts like the following break me down: every time we try to get away and do something nice for ourselves, it ends up like this. We have no choice but to follow the crowd that’s going backwards through the airport.

Later, Boone would tell people that during this situation “Mama was disappointed and Daddy was disappointed but I was happy because it was an emergency.” We had described the chaos of hundreds of people trying to grapple for some sense of control as an emergency, not knowing just how much magic this word held for Boone. From his perspective, waiting for hours on end wasn’t boring or frustrating. How could it be? This was a real life emergency, the stuff of his Fireman Sam dreams.

We started hearing snippets of news: the air strike was affecting not only those travelling to France but everyone flying over France to Spain and Portugal; this was the second time this year “the French” had done this; all of this was nothing to do with Ryanair, oh no, this was all down to an “unnecessary” strike. While I did curse the French and their penchant for strikes, I wouldn’t go so far as to call any strike unnecessary. Joseph had said that we were a union, too, and I thought yes, and we’re being used for leverage. None of the other airlines cancelled.

Once we got to the desk to rebook our flights, the agent started listing out dates, one of them being the third of July—my Dad’s birthday. I noted it, but that was all. Just another day. We got flights for a few days later, on Saturday morning, with a return flight a week later on the fifth.

DSC05766It worked out all right in the end. Our accommodation in Nice was available for most of the following week; we just had to book a hotel for the last night. We had originally planned on a week in Nice and then a week of relaxation in Dublin, now we just had to switch the order around. (Except our week in Dublin wasn’t entirely relaxing as we were waiting on news of the strike every day.) It was strange to go back to our own apartment on the same day as we’d left it, back to a cleaned out fridge, stripped beds, and an empty laundry basket (there was nary a pair of knickers to sully it.) We went out for dinner to commiserate, drank, took a lovely and elaborate trip to Greystones so that we could get coffee and vegan desserts.

The strike was called off, we got on the plane and somewhere in the middle of a fluffy white cloud, grief settled in, pressing on my chest, wrapping itself around my throat. We’d gotten off the island and away from the everyday but in so doing, the floodgates that I usually try to hold against depression and anxiety flung open. I was supposed to be having a nice time. I was supposed to be getting a  break from it all. I was supposed to find the sunshine and turquoise sea beautiful. I was supposed to be happy. Instead, the darkness seeped in, making me hate my skin, my bones, my brain. Being surrounded by uniformly tanned and air-conditioned looking French girls did not help.

But yet, everything was better on the beach. I went into the silence of the sea, the salty water leached the sadness from my bones. I found that if I tried to swim, I ended up expending a lot of energy getting absolutely nowhere, but if I lay on my back, motionless, the salt and the waves carried me along the length of the beach. I think this might be a life lesson.

As Boone stacked pebbles and we got into our on-the-beach-trance of thinking and not thinking, people watching and not watching people, Boone sighed and said “I love this.”

DSC05875DSC05881DSC05843Every day at noon in Nice, a canon goes off in the park on the hill. On Thursday, my Dad’s birthday, we climbed the hill in search of it. We almost found the cannon but at noon, it found us. Boom! The shock of the sound, even though I had been expecting it, exploded through my chest, making me jump and cry out. And once that one cry had let out, I couldn’t stop the rest of the crying. My Dad should have been 62, not dead.

The last day, after a morning of dark skies and downpours, we got to go to the beach one last time. The sea was rougher than usual. All the hottie lifeguards were on high alert. I came out of the sea grateful and shaky and especially glad that we’d bought those dorky beach shoes.

“The cure for anything is salt water—tears, sweat, or the sea.”—Isak Dinesen, Seven Gothic Tales

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Lagniappe

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For your viewing pleasure, a fascinating study of Boone raising his eyebrows (one at a time!), followed by his version of smize. Devastating.

I’m in mourning for Joseph’s beard. As much as I couldn’t stand him stroking it all the time, I miss seeing it on his face.

Boone’s got the faintest of tanlines where his sunglasses usually are. I call it his mask of Zoro.

I really loved this post about maternity leave. I especially liked this: “You never really come back. . . . The truth is that the early weeks and months after a baby arrives pull you into a world that you never quite step out of again, no matter the professional choices you make . . . Becoming a parent is like stepping into Narnia: you’re changed once you’ve walked through that wardrobe, even if you can eventually find your way back out.”

This song by The War on Drugs pretty much sums up my mental state these days. We actually saw them a few weeks ago. It was an oddly disappointing and, at times, boring gig. I’ve never been to a show where both the performers and the audience were clearly relieved when it was all over. Everything was off; the sound, the (lack of) energy in the room, the lead singer’s attitude to everything, my choice of outfit (I wore black when I clearly should have worn plaid.) At any rate, I still really like their music and whenever I feel like experiencing a better performance than what we saw, I go here.

Lagniappe

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Crossing his legs, like his Ma

Lately, Boone’s taken to weeing in really socially inappropriate places—on our balcony, in the garden of a garden dinner party—not because he’s desperate to go, but purely because he thinks it’s hilarious. I wish that my shoulders didn’t shake so much whenever this happens because it betrays the fact that I think it’s hilarious, too.

Joseph shaved his beard off. It’s had a really uncanny time travel effect.

Speaking of time, Boone’s been taunting me with the fact that he’s going to grow up to be an adult one day. This does not help the constant feeling I have of time running like water through my hands. However, by his logic, since he’s going to grow up, I’m going to grow down into a baby. I’ve got lots of things to look forward to, apparently, like fitting into his car seat and the baby swings at the park.

Since starting playschool, we’ve had a lot more mucous in the house.

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“Take a picture of me”

Boone’s started describing food items that he doesn’t like as “too cracky.”  I have no idea what this means except that maybe it’s something to do with texture?

I’ve watched this about a hundred times this week. I had been calling them a girl band but then had to remind myself that I was being pejorative and sexist. (If they were a band of men in their thirties, I would just call them a band, ugh.) At any rate, Boone walked in on one of my viewings and asked,”is that suitable for me? is that suitable for you?” This coming from the hooligan who wees off balconies.

Joseph’s gone to a conference in Finland for a week. We miss him.

I love this picture so much.

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“Can we go to a coffee shop?”

 

Improving my French

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Nobody but nobody can help themselves from saying “oh, Nice is nice.” Maybe it’s because when people think of Nice, they’re thinking of palm trees and truly azure-blue skies and seas, streets in the shade of faded Great Gatsby-era glamour, warmth, the pleasant mix of dreadlocked hippies and well-dressed locals in gold jewellery and crisp shirts and tourists who might try to copy the French Riviera look but will never succeed, the open-air market where the vendors tell these tourists the price of their wares in whatever number they can think of in English at the time (usually conveniently rounded up), fresh-baked everything , the pebbly beach on the city’s edge where an American girl is going topless, self-consciously, while lithe French teenagers who don’t make any distinction between street clothes and beachwear sunbathe beside women who answer their phones and in nicotine-stained voices tell their callers that they are “sur la plage-uh,” which judging by the quality of their skin—crispy, mahogany—is exactly where they’ve been every day for the past sixty years.

Or maybe people say “oh, Nice is nice” because it’s just too irresistible not to describe a city called Nice as nice.

At any rate, it really is nice and we’re going! For the fourth time, thanks to a house deposit that we feel is better spent on “experiences” rather than “things,” like a house.

Besides debating with myself, as I do every time before we go to Nice, about whether or not to apply fake tan (go on, it’ll take the edge off the whiteness/ what’s the point? the inevitable tell-tale signs around the ankles will just make me and my effort to cover up my heritage and the climate of my homeland even more pathetic), I’ve been working on improving my French, which like fake tan, has zero chance of helping me fit in any better, my accent being as Irish as my skin, but at least the ability to speak French puts me in a different class of tourist, a classier class, if you will.

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Don’t need no fake tan

How have I been improving my French? By watching YouTube videosof gorgeous French girls applying their make-up, that’s how. I find these videos completely engrossing, in a way that if I didn’t know they were a “thing,” i.e. that other people watch them too, I’d feel  funny about this pastime as there’s something unsettlingly intimate about being part of someone else’s toilette. Still, somewhat queasy feelings aside, I’m learning loads, from key vocabulary (“make-up” is make-up in French!) to pronunciation soop-ehrr (“super”), heeep-ehrrr (“hyper”), oool-trra (“ultra”), to broader cultural lessons about the so-called effortless French-girl look actually taking a good amount of effort.

I’m also prone to strrreet sty-uhl videos where very young twenty-somethings describe each item of their outfit. Very useful stuff.

And just to make sure, I checked and Thomas Mars is still my boyfriend. So, I’ve been watching this and this en boucle, as well as letting him teach me French here. Any excuse. This particular crush of mine drives Joseph mad, for some reason. Our conversations go like this:

Joseph: Ugh, so he’s the tortured poet of the band, I suppose? Uh, uh, uh. (That would be Joseph’s imitation of a tortured French poet.)

Me: (Dreamy-eyed, sighing) Yeah. Isn’t he soooo lettres modernes?

Joseph: (Silence)

Me: You know he’s just a French version of you!

Joseph: Really. (No question mark.)

I’m hoping that all of this intense preparation is not in vain. How can it be? I now know how to pronounce beauty product names like sooblime-uh seeelk perfexion and use non-verbal interjections like pffff and that spitty raspberry blowing sound that I can’t find letters to match. I’m well on my way. Or so I think. I know that when I get there I’ll be all flummoxed, like Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise when he’s describing the anxiety of having studied French for years only to arrive in France and not be able to do something seemingly straightforward (it’s never straightforward) like buy a train ticket. My favourite part of that scene is how Julie Delpy corrects his grammar because argh! it’s so French.

At any rate, I don’t intend to dedicate too much time to my anxieties surrounding the French language in Nice this year as I plan on lying on the beach in my factor 50, reading books and Elle magazines, drinking rosé, and speaking to no one. Unless I’m fortunate enough again to get caught in an undercurrent that tumbles me over, cutting my knee on benign-looking pebbles so that I have to hobble up, bleeding, to a grouchy hottie lifeguard (who despite being a lifeguard, has not seen me go under, nor has motioned to come and rescue me) and have an exchange wherein he realises I have enough French for him to get by without having to resort to his worse English and then he goes on to put a plaster on my knee, like I’m a five year old.

As for Boone, he thinks that what we really need to do to prepare for our holidays is paint our toenails pink and “keep our socks off!” Done and done, mon p’tit gars.

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A little thing called love

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Lately, Boone’s been telling us a lot that he loves us. Sometimes he says it because he’s very pleased with us, sometimes he says it because he wants to butter us up, but most of the time he says it just to say it, like in those sweet, sweet moments just before he goes to sleep or when we’re all sitting around not doing much of anything. It always makes us laugh because he doesn’t just say I love you, he says, I looooove you, letting the ‘o’ drop and deepen until it all sounds very grand and cinematic. There’s also more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek roguery to these declarations—Ralph Fiennes’ character in The Grand Budapest Hotel comes to mind. We attempt to match his grandeur and tell him that we love him, too, and then we all bask in a love haze.

I never expected this reciprocation. I’ve always known what it’s like for me to love him. It physically hurts—the blood that used to flow in and out of my heart unnoticed, I can now feel with every squeeze of my blood vessels. There are a lot of songs about love in the world but when I heard this song a couple of years ago, I thought that’s it, that’s what mother love is like!  It’s that almost bad-for-you love, it’s the crawling desperation of “I will love you ‘til the end of time/Promise you’ll remember that you’re mine.” I know that Lana Del Rey’s referring to loving a tattooed bad boy but she may as well be singing about my boy, the one who makes my eyes burn every time he walks into the room.

I had been wondering if Boone really knew the meaning of I love you, so the other day, I asked him.

“It means . . . I like you and think you’re fantastic!,” he said.

I’d say he’s got a pretty good understanding.

California reminiscin’

California

“Scrappy Cali” by Daniel Patrick Simmons via A Well Traveled Woman

I debated whether it was really a good idea for me to read a memoir in which the author’s mother is diagnosed with lung cancer and then dies seven weeks later. Curiosity got the better of me, though; I wanted to read about someone else’s grief and to see how they got through it. So, this is how I came to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a book about a young woman who, at a very low point in her life, takes off on an 1,100 mile hike through the wilderness.

I say I read it but really I inhaled it. Of course, there were parts where I had to pinch my nose and hold my breath, like the part where she described her mother’s illness and death, or the part where she described killing her mother’s horse, but overall, I really enjoyed it, not least because I got to live out the fantasy of getting away from it all and doing the work of life some place—any place—but here. That some place being California.

Since I had set out to read the book to see how someone goes about healing, I was completely taken by surprise when I was hit by a wave of nostalgia for California and the one and only time I’ve ever been camping. That’s right, the one and only time I’ve ever been camping was in California. On top of that, I was with a tour group, in a well-appointed campsite that had toilets and showers and electricity and only the faint possibility of bears roaming around at night. It was classified as camping, but only because we slept on warm, dry ground in tents, tents which I’m fairly sure that had been pitched for us.

Before going on this camping trip, I hadn’t fully realised that I was in California. Cocooned in fog and cool temperatures in San Francisco all summer, it didn’t feel that different from Ireland, but once we were outside the city limits the landscape changed to a thin line of reddish-brown ground and a very big sky filled with blue and heat. During the day, we were bussed around to places that were famous in the American psyche, but not in ours. I remember Alice being completely nonplussed by the scenery—all jutting grey rock towering above us—because “meh, we have better at home.”

On one of our days out to Yosemite, I saw backpackers, thin, miserable-looking backpackers, carrying enormous backpacks. It occurred to me that they were on some sort of trail, like the one I’ve just read about, hiking from place to place and setting up camp at each stop. I wanted to ask them why but thought better of it. I think I know better now.

We were a raggle-taggle group, if ever there was one. There was the three of us, young Irish girls on our J1 visas, a handful of hostel types including “there’s always one” guy who never got back to the bus the same time as everyone else, a couple where the man seemed intent on ticking sights off on the list in his head, even sights like Sequoia trees, and then there was another older couple where the man insisted on calling his wife, even when we were in the close quarters of the well-appointed campsite, by imitating the whistle of some bird or other. And there was the tour guide (I think I’ll call him Greg), who in my mind’s eye resembles the boy with blonde dreadlocks that Lisa Simspon was mad about one time. He was definitely very blonde and very tanned and did terribly romantic things like squeeze lime juice on chicken before adding it to curry. Lime juice! What finesse. How exotic, how gourmet.

The last night of the trip was going to be the night, or so I thought, but for some reason, Greg had to go back to San Francisco. In his place, a female tour guide materialised, along with a blender, because we were going to have margaritas, whoo! We all got too drunk, too fast. At least one person puked and I got cranky and told someone to shut up because I think they were trying to get me to speak French, which was a sore point as I was about to go to France for a year and couldn’t really speak French. Everything went a bit sour and then it was the end of the summer, time to go home, which I didn’t want to do, time to go onto France, which I didn’t want to do, time to leave San Francisco, which I didn’t want to do but I didn’t want to stay, either.

A while back, Joseph and I were knocking around the idea of moving back to America. “California,” I said, “wouldn’t that be nice?” I said this, knowing I should be more careful because that summer in San Francisco, I started thinking that it would be really cool to go to New Orleans. A year later, I celebrated my twenty-first birthday in New Orleans. I remember getting a hurricane and asking Alex what was in it and him saying “I dunno, but it’ll fuck you up!” It must have because I can’t remember too much else of my twenty-first birthday, my memories as hazy as the New Orleans streets.

Sometimes I wish I were 21 again, so that I could do all the things I feel like doing right now: getting away, getting off my face, getting out of here. None of those things are really an option, so I have to stay here, in real life, putting one foot in front of the other anyhow.

“I lay down in the mother ash dirt among the crocuses and told her it was okay. That I’d surrendered. That since she died, everything had changed. Things she couldn’t have imagined and wouldn’t have guessed. My words came out low and steadfast. I was so sad it felt as if someone were choking me, and yet it seemed my whole life depended on my getting those words out. She would always be my mother, I told her, but I had to go. She wasn’t there for me in that flowerbed anymore anyway, I explained. I’d put her somewhere else. The only place I could reach her. In me.”—Cheryl Strayed, Wild

And because I can’t resist, a little Joni

Going to (play)school

DSC05465 DSC05463DSC05473 Katie in Cornonation Street used to have some of the best lines about motherhood. There was the time she was so unsure of herself after having a baby that she didn’t even know what type of music she liked anymore and then there was the time a bit before that when everyone else around her was enjoying the getting-ready-for-the-work-day panic while she just sat on the couch, a hollow version of herself. As Fizz hurried her own child out to her childminder’s, Katie, exasperated said, “I’d like a childminder and all,” to which Chesney, also exasperated, responded, “yeah but Fizz works.”

Well, that got to me.

What was Chesney saying, exactly? On the surface, it seemed he was stating a simple fact: Fizz works, therefore Fizz has childcare. But he was also saying a whole lot more. He was, I would argue, summing up a general cultural attitude towards the value of paid work versus unpaid caregiving. He was saying that Fizz deserved childcare because she went out to work. He was saying that Fizz contributed to the household, nay to society, while Katie was just at home with the baby, not working, apparently. He was saying that were Katie to work like Fizz, then it would be okay to outsource the childcare of their child because she would be paying for it and consequently, earning it. But as things stood, Chesney’s attitude—condescending, talking to Katie as though she were a spoiled child—was that Katie staying at home with the baby was her “job” and it was hers to do alone, with neither help nor pay.

The worst part is that for a long time, I agreed with Chesney, even though I often felt like Katie. I had internalized the message that I could only have childcare if I had paid work. Otherwise, it seemed like a double negative; after all, I was already taking away from the family by not earning money and if I were to get childcare, then I would just cost the family even more. Katie in Coronation Street, on the other hand, had a team of writers who circumvented the whole issue for her by getting other characters to volunteer unsustainable amounts of free childcare. Meanwhile, I just let the market-model of capitalism, which conveniently disregards the economic contribution of unpaid labour, overrun my thoughts and feelings, thoughts and feelings which have been very hard to shake. In fact, I don’t think I’ve fully shook them yet. But job or no job, it was clear that I needed a break from mothering, preferably a defined and scheduled break for two to three mornings a week, so that, ironically, I could work. Also, Boone needed to hang out with people his own age on a more regular basis, especially since we’d both had it with a lot of the so-called mum and toddler-friendly playgroups and activities, mainly because they’re not friendly at all. Hence: playschool.

(I know I’m supposed to call it “Montessori” or “pre-school” or whatever, but I just can’t bring myself to do it so “playschooo-uhl,”as Boone calls it, it is.)

I also know that I’m conflating childcare with education here but for me, it is about childcare. I simply need someone else to occupy Boone for a few hours. I couldn’t care less if he “learns” anything, particularly anything from the numbers-letters-colours-shapes canon, which according to a very jaded eleven-year-old Dominic is the entire (and boring) curriculum of early childhood education. No, Boone learns plenty as it is just by being almost-three. Also, he watches copious amounts of telly, all of which seems hell bent on educating him, despite my misgivings.

Although the HSE recommended that I visit at least three different “centres,” I signed Boone up for the first one we visited, as of all the playschools I had oh-so-diligently entered in an Excel spreadsheet, this was the first one that answered my call. As it happens, I already knew about this playschool as the daughter of one of my momfriends goes there. I remember my friend describing the school as “no frills,” which appealed to me on several levels. Plus I’d heard other mothers talking about the school, with one woman telling me that she thought her son would never adapt but he did, thanks to the teacher’s magical powers. (Actually, what she really said was “I didn’t think anyone could break him but this teacher did!”). When I spoke to the teacher myself, I thought she was really cool.

When we went to visit, the first thing I was struck by was the smell: sticky surfaces and kids, or, I should say, the symbiotic relationship between sticky surfaces and kids, the one existing because of the other. I observed the class, a small group of about eight three- to four-year olds, while they made rice krispie buns. It was all sorts of adorable. Later, I told the teacher, Ruth, that it wasn’t much different from my own teaching experience. “Oh, did you teach Montessori?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I taught adults.” But really there was no difference, expect age, because just like in my own classes, here was the kid sneaking in mouthfuls of sprinkles while they thought the teacher wasn’t looking, here was the kid who couldn’t resist giving a sly puck to the one beside him, here were the two lovebirds exchanging furtive kisses. The smell didn’t matter; it was how the teacher responded to and managed all of this with such care and patience that impressed me the most. And she reminded me of Adele, possibly the most conscientious person I know.

We picked a start date. We were all set. Every night we read our beloved Usborne Going to School book to Boone. We went shopping and Boone picked out a new green lunchbox and matching water bottle. I got him a new hoodie and then the week he was due to start, Dad died. I found myself in the ludicrous position of trying to word this in an email to the teacher. I had no idea what to say. I couldn’t just blurt out the truth, so instead I was vague and said that there was “a family crisis.”

A couple of weeks later when Boone did start, I wasn’t exactly as robust as I’d hoped to be on his first day of playschool. Not only was I raw with grief, I was also very worried that this playschool experiment could go the way of the music class fiasco. Thankfully, thankfully, it didn’t. Barring that bout of hand foot and mouth disease and the mornings when Boone cries, it’s been a very good experience.

And now, in a somewhat thematic order, here are all of the things I like about playschool:

Packing Boone’s lunchbox and unpacking it when he gets home. For some reason, I get a kick out of picturing him getting his lunchbox out of his little schoolbag and then eating his sandwich at the classroom table.

The smear of peanut butter and/or jam on his face when I collect him.

The way Boone’s face lights up when I arrive and the sweet hug that follows.

Missing Boone and he missing me.

All of the work we’ve put into discussing emotions with Boone (or as he calls them, “lotions”) paying off. He tells us things like “I cwied and cwied and cwied and then I was happy at playschooo-uhl” and “Ruth got me a tissue and blew my nose” and “saying goodbye is hard.”

The genuine interest Ruth has in getting to know Boone and what makes him tick. “I get him,” she said the other day and I know she does.

Someone else appreciating Boone’s Boone-ishness.

The sincere little reports Ruth gives me every day like, “he’s doing super!” and “he’s very communicative about his needs,” which I know means that he has no qualms telling her “I need a do a weeeee!”

The name tag above Boone’s “special hook,” which includes a picture of a red fire engine as this was the toy he played with exclusively for the first week. Teacher of the Year Award right there.

Hearing Boone come out with phrases that are obviously borrowed from the teacher, things like “no-one would be going out on a day like today” and lots and lots of tag questions.

The way all the other kids say “Boone, Boone, Boone!” We’re trying to get Boone to call them by their names, too, or at the very least to stop referring to them as “the kids.” They’re the other kids, Boone!

Being out and about early in the morning and feeling like I’m part of the masses, all of us going to our expected and respective institutions.

Getting a solid block of three hours twice a week to sit at the computer, write, listen to music, and hatch terrifying, high-risk, and bound-to-fail plans.