pop that champagne

A cautious, dubious, introvert at heart, a large energy barrier must be surpassed for me to feel hopeful. I’m always watching for the house of cards to collapse; my faith in gravity is incessant.

So to pop the champagne this week was a giant leap for laurakind.

Mute your TV (or turn it OFF) because they are spewing nonsense again: we are not experiencing a “somber moment” for our country. We’re in a buoyant bubble of relief that we might return to some sense of normalcy after seven ridiculous years where we watched, jaw dropped, heart pounding, utterly flabbergasted and embarrassed for our nation.

Raise a glass to the brave, smart law enforcers who won’t step away from the hard part.


What is this feeling?

Anticipation: looking forward to the future, for something good to happen, expected or not.

Three years since we all locked down due to COVID and Johns Hopkins has just suspended their collection and reporting of case data. I took that as my signal to stop my collection as well. Yes, I have a spreadsheet of data for more than 160 weeks. Thousands of Americans still die due to COVID every week. It’s hard to hold the candle at this vigil. It feels good to stop collecting the data. It’s hard to care all alone.

I’m still teaching in a mask to protect myself and my vulnerable loved ones. I still test about once a week.

Is dwindling concern over COVID what’s causing my undercurrent of anticipation? I don’t think so. Not just that.

Since 2016 when we were flabbergasted by Donnie’s crude disparaging comments about how he’s allowed to treat women, and then Comey’s last stand, and then election day that year–for the last six and a half years I’ve dreaded hearing from or about that deplorable man. Now. Finally. Maybe as soon as next week. He’ll face his first arrest. Manhattan will start the take down, and there will be more coming. There is handwringing over potential backlash from his goons, but that should not stop the march to justice to take down this career criminal and the worst choice for President in my lifetime, and maybe ever. There’s this warm glimmer of hope that the stain made by Donnie can be rinsed away and we can be rid of him.

Is the pending indictment of Donnie going to cause dancing in the streets and a shortage of champagne? That’s my prediction. My sparkling wine is ready. Bring it on.

But that’s not the only ingredient in this feeling.

There’s finally a push for a world run on sustainable energy. I’ve been waiting for this for decades. I’ve suffered the financial loss of owning an electric (hybrid) car before they were mainstream, before they were serviceable, before they were affordable–simply to do my part and reduce my energy consumption. Electric cars, solar panels, renewable energy, understanding about humanity’s role in warming the planet–the current crop of young adults gets it all and will demand responsibility louder than any of us could in the past.

Is there hope for humanity? Absolutely.

On the other hand, for years Americans refused to wear masks to protect each other. Over a million citizens died. At the same time these me-firsters loudly declared their importance, science brought vaccines. Science.

There is hope for humanity because we have the brain capacity to understand science and all its wonders, all while ignoring the loud misunderstandings of the people who don”t understand, can’t understand, or just don’t want to, and think they know better. Science is the reason there’s hope for humanity.

But even that’s not the only reason I’m feeling a spark of hope.

March Madness is upon us. Such an exciting tournament. I always guess my way through a bracket and actually pay attention to the games, charmed by the feverish devotion of college students to their teams. Right now, Kansas might beat Arkansas.

Is college basketball and the new leaves on the trees causing my bubble of anticipation? Maybe not. But they are greasing the path of the day-to-day struggle to wake up early and drive through the traffic and back again.

After semesters teaching online, and then watching hundreds of awkward unprepared students struggle to readjust to coming to class, now we’re reaching a point where they are ready to learn again. There’s a sense of normalcy in the lecture hall. Participation, interaction, friendships, discussions, collaboration, success–my students are resilient and dedicated, interested and capable.

Is loving my job again what’s giving me this glittery view of a future? Certainly part of it. But there’s more.

This week I lost my keys and found them, ate my breakfast without a fork in the car, dropped my egg under the seat, worked 14-hour days, completed ten hours of homework for the class I take at night, appreciated my team of graduate students, emailed dozens of students, answered dozens of questions, wrote five exams, graded hundreds of exams, slept like the dead, dropped things made of glass that didn’t break, ordered grocery pickup on the wrong date and Angela filled my order early anyway, dodged a crash when a truck pulled in my lane, had two moles removed and only one was bad, pumped gas and it stopped at 10.00 gallons, finished a Whole 30, beat my bloodwork challenge with lowered A1C and lowered cholesterol, wore green, and felt relief to have survived it all.

Relief is like floating, but it’s looking back. Anticipation is looking forward. So surviving a hard week is a bonus, but it isn’t the only reason for my hope bubble.

Summer is coming. The semester is slipping away. Five more weeks of alarm clocks. Final exams. Then a week at the beach to recover. Sunsets on the lake. Purple martins at the island. And may it be so: Grandbabies are coming for another Grammy Camp. Days of giggling and swimming and baking and reading. Plus, my family is waiting for a brand-new human to join us. A tiny new person.

There it is. My heart is full of the next generation of my family, and all the ways these delightfully thoughtful and funny people will conquer the world.

goodbye summer, hello semester

Goodbye to time to think, laugh, and read.

Hello to traffic, stress, and email.

Goodbye to piano, walks, and family.

Hello to exams, stairs, and strangers.

Goodbye to quiet.

Hello to rushing, planning, teaching, pending illness, eating at my desk, grading.

Hello to new students excited about learning what I can teach them.

Hello to unlocking curiosity, gently nudging more practice, glorying in students reaching beyond what they expected but what I knew they could do.

Hello to a learning community that helps each other succeed, a place where minds are changed, the place I chose to work before the pandemic shook up all of life.

Hello to potential greatness. If I survive two semesters, I’ll see you next year, summer, where you can bandage all my bruises and get me ready to do it all again.

An excerpt from a work-in-progress, SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH LAURIE

“What’s a cemetery?” The insistent question, asked multiple times to penetrate the argument between radio music and the roar of open window wind, comes from Judy from the backseat, the unfiltered older sister, who sits to my right and behind our mother in the front seat with the baby on her lap.

All four windows of the car are cranked all the way down. From the middle of the backseat the wind hits me from both sides, almost taking my breath away and whipping my long stringy hair in a circle around my head, except for the row of inch-long bangs high up on my forehead. I assume this is the purpose of bangs. Daddy’s tanned arm hangs out the driver’s side front window, two fingers pinching his lit cigarette. I am five, and already addicted to nicotine from all the second hand smoke in our house. His other arm, the pale one, steers the car. I watch his wrist hang over the wheel and know this is how I want to look if I ever drive a car, if I’m ever tall enough to see over the dashboard.

To my left sits the brother, called ‘my son’ by our mother, a boy with huge dark eyes and curly brown hair who professionally wears the grin of it wasn’t me like he invented denial. He has the other window, the one that used to be mine (back when Mommy’s lap was his) because if he sits in the middle he’ll make Judy scream. And if she sits in the middle she can’t breathe. And if Jimmy makes Judy scream, Daddy can’t think, so he can’t drive, so we go home instead of wherever the six of us are trying to go. Jimmy fears me, for some reason, so it’s just logical for our exhausted parents to use me as the human blocker, Switzerland, a dependable source of peace. But not today.

Mommy somehow turns her long elegant neck around to answer Judy’s question and adds her voice to the noise. “A cemetery is where you go when you die.”

The pile of plastic flowers on my lap drops to the floor of the car. Judy scrambles down off her seat to scoop them up. We had a fight about carrying them, well she had a fight. I’m Switzerland so the pile was placed on my lap as her punishment for shoving Jimmy and running down the street with the flowers instead of getting in the car. Now the flowers are fair game. In our family if you drop something, or get up from your seat, or leave a half-eaten banana (if we have any) while you go to the bathroom, you lose it. The vultures descend. I didn’t care about the flowers when she fought for them earlier and I sure don’t care now that I know where we’re going and why.

No one responds to Mommy. Maybe everyone is shocked. I look around and change my mind: nobody heard her but me.

The car is going too fast. Even if it’s a holiday and it’s what you’re supposed to do, I do not want to go the cemetery. Daddy’s big blue car usually takes us to the grocery store or Gram’s. If we’re good in the car with Daddy while Mom goes in the store with the baby we can have a banana. On the way to Gram’s we beg Daddy to stop when we see the chestnut trees in the huge park, but he only stops once in fifty trips, because the other times the chestnuts aren’t ready. At Gram’s we get tight soft hugs and wet kisses and we run around her house, inside and out. One summer we went to the fair in this car. On Saturdays in summer we go to the lake. We stop for potato chips and cherries and cigarettes and soda on the way. We play all day and get a sunburn and bury cherry pits in the dirty sand. We all fall asleep in the backseat like puppies on the way home, unbelted because there’s no seatbelt law yet. Once we almost went to the drive-in movie to see Bambi, but Daddy pretended we were bad when he didn’t want to sit in the long traffic line and took us home. Just like Jimmy pretends he doesn’t like what’s for dinner every night so he can have cereal. Why is Memorial Day a holiday anyway? Judy asked Mommy what memorial meant this morning, but I didn’t hear the answer because Jimmy dropped his peanut butter toast on the floor and demanded Captain Crunch. For some reason that made the baby cry, which started another blast of noise.

I do not want to go to the cemetery.

I smack Jimmy’s leg and he swats me away like a flea. I grab his arm and pull him to me. He sees I’m crying. I stare into his infinite eyes, panic rising, and before I lose my breath I whisper, “We’re going to the cemetery.” He nods and kneels up to hang his head out the window like a dog.

I yank him down and whisper in his ear, “There’s dead people. At the cemetery.” His eyes grow even wider before his face turns purple and crumples.

He gasps, “Dead people. The cemetery,” and starts shaking his head violently back and forth in anger. Snot is already dripping from his nose. Jimmy always gets me. Maybe that’s why he fears me.

The car whizzes through the turns of the crazy road while I sob beside my little brother in the backseat. Normally we put our hands up and scream with glee as the sharp turns throw us in a kid heap from one side of the car to the other, back in the carefree days of no seatbelts. Only Judy is squealing.

At a red light at the top of the hill the roaring wind takes a rest, and when mom finally turns around to check on us she sees her two middle children quietly sobbing. When I see her see me, I release the instinctive reaction to a mother’s attention; I open my mouth to a square and sob from my soul.

“Jim. Pull over.”

We stand in a line on the cracked sidewalk, a staircase of heads, the four-year-old, then me, then the six-year-old. By now Judy has joined the sobbing without knowing why. I haven’t been able to speak. Daddy squats and Mommy kneels before us. Behind them, I see the baby. She’s standing on the seat looking out the open window, seriously close to adding her voice to the fray. Seeing the baby makes me wail even louder. I don’t want her to die. Ever.

Jimmy has found his breath and he’s yelling, “Laurie (gasp) Laurie (gasp).” Over and over. This helps our parents understand that I started this. The victim always sobs the perpetrator’s name. They both focus on me. Daddy holds my shoulders with both crooked hands. I grab his muscled forearms and feel a little better. I try to take a breath through my hiccups. When I focus on his blue eyes, I crumple again into sobs. I don’t want him to die. Ever. He pulls me to his chest. They wait while I sob.

When I cry myself dry, and finally lift my head, my family encircles me on the ground. Mommy holds the baby on her hip as she kneels on the concrete. It’s Mommy’s voice that almost sends me over the wall again.

“Laurie. Tell us. What’s wrong? What happened?” She cups my chin in her hand. The baby reaches out and pats my cheek.

Mommy’s dark eyes match mine and Jimmy’s. I know I’ll look just like her one day. I try to speak.

“I don’t… I don’t want… I…” and I’m sobbing again. Jimmy joins in sobbing, but he can speak while he cries, so he starts to plead our case.

“We don’t want to…” he begins, his eyes are wild with fear, and he is overcome by the aching need to square his mouth and howl. Everyone watches, holding their breath, waiting to learn what thing must be avoided.

Finally we say together, “We don’t want to… DIE!”

We fall on our parents in a fresh wave of terror, but I feel a sliver of relief. We’ve laid the problem before our protectors. They’ll know what to do. Either we’ll all live, or we’ll all die together. It’s not up to me.

Judy catches the fear virus. She didn’t seem to know we were going to the cemetery to die. Now she’s crying for real. She’s fresh, at the beginning of the cry, and we all wait for hers to pass so we can have a family meeting. The sky suddenly opens up in a steady drizzly sun shower. Our parents usher us back into the car.

The seats are hot. The windows are still all the way down and rain drips in on the people near them. I’m dry in the middle.

Mommy begins. “Laurie, look at me.”

I do.

“I know you don’t want to die.”

I nod. I feel vigorous nodding from both sides. Daddy smiles and stops smiling in a blink. I didn’t miss the smile.

I look at him and whisper, “I don’t want any of you to die.” It’s the core of my fear—unfathomable life without them. He just nods.

“We’re not going to die,” Mommy insists.

“Yes. We are.”

“But not today,” Daddy helps.

“We will. If we go to the cemetery. Mommy said so. ‘A cemetery is where you go when you die.’”

Their three oldest children sit silently in the backseat, watching them look at each other, deep into each other, and decide without speaking what must be done about this crisis.

To their credit, my parents did not laugh just then. They stored my fear and my literal logic pressed into the pages of their Book of Laurie to take out and examine later, after I was safely tucked in bed, to marvel at the developing people occupying the tiny bodies of their children. As all parents do. But they did heed my warning and turned the car around and took us all home, where we didn’t even start to die for another quarter of a century.