The preciousness of the mundane


Wednesday was the kind of day I dread for days in advance.  The kind of day when I growl, “For this I went to college?” and wonder if I am violating some sort of Massachusetts law by not having a chauffer’s license.

Drive one kid to school, another to work. (His car’s in the shop.) A music book that absolutely, positively had to be acquired by tomorrow only exists in a store 30 minutes away.  A kid home from work, then ferry to college.  Another pick-up at school.  Soccer at 4:30.  Traffic backed up on Main Street, the faint scream of sirens. Home finally, out of hay. The feed store closes in 30 minutes.  Soccer ends at 6.  College class out, 20 minutes away. Return kid home. Change clothes, unload hay,  back to middle school. Curriculum night.  Grumpy. Tired. Late.

Later than I think. The parking lot’s almost empty.

Hurrying in, pass a teacher.  “It’s been canceled; didn’t you hear?”  Relief.

But then, ominously, “I’m not at liberty to tell you why.”

Back home, check the news, looking for a bomb threat, fire, gas leak.

There. Oh dear God. Car-bike collision.  After school.

A ghost bike in Berlin. (Image via Wikipedia.)

A ghost bike in Berlin. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Hands fly to face.   The sirens, the traffic, my trifling annoyance.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

The phone starts to ring.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Hopkinton is a small town hiding in the skirts of a big city. We talk a big game on Marathon Day, but when the last runner crosses over into Ashland, we pick up the trash, and go back to being a small town again.

On days when school lets out early, children roam the town like strays. They go to the library, the town square, the pizza shop. They sit on stone walls.  Ride their bikes on sidewalks and streets.  We maneuver around them, smiling and waving.  Even kids we don’t know are familiar. That one, we saw in the school play. This one came trick-or-treating. I wasn’t around in the ‘50s, but I have this idea that the way the town is now is much like it was then.

“Hopkinton is a small town,” one resident tells a newspaper reporter. “Everyone’s kids are everyone’s kids.”

Which is why we’re all in mourning for a child who wasn’t ours, but is.

Sometimes I talk jocularly about “Scary Bike News,” and it’s a wonder my kids even have bikes, given the amount of preaching I do on the topic.  I can discuss, with alarming detail, car-bike fatalities that occurred a thousand miles away. (Have I told you about the one on the James Island Connector?) And the hits, they just keep coming, like this one a few years ago, or this one, earlier today. Each time, I grouse that I’m not sure which should be outlawed, cars or bikes.

This is a serious problem for someone who believes in the greatest amount of liberty for the greatest number of people.  And for someone who loves bicycles.  And cars.

Have you ever seen a ghost bike?  They’re bikes painted white, silver or gray, locked to a street sign or post near a fatal crash. They are, according to a website that tracks them all over the world, “reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists’ right to safe travel.”

Safe travel, yes:  we need bike lanes and paths. But do cyclists have the right to travel on busy two-lane roads with negligible shoulders?

I think not, every time I pass one, and my throat seizes up in fear.  No matter how slow I go, no matter how careful she’s being, I know a bump or hole could throw her into my path. And that a blink of inattention could propel me into hers.

Many years ago, when we lived in Charleston, I passed the aftermath of a car-bike accident on Harbor View Road. I didn’t see the cyclist, who was already loaded into the ambulance, but I saw the driver of the car, sitting on the side of the road, hands covering his face, grief-stricken.  I won’t soon forget it.

Nor the “terrible” day I had Wednesday, which turned out not to be a terrible day at all, at least not for me, because every single one of my kids came home — what a miracle, that —  and I got to hug them, and touch their faces and smooth their hair, even as they squirmed and protested.  They live to hear me preach another day, about the preciousness of the mundane.

And, when enough time has passed, again about Scary Bike News.

The family has requested that contributions in honor of Shayne go to “The Sky’s the Limit,” a courtyard project at Hopkinton Middle School. Checks may be payable to the school, 88 Hayden Rowe St., Hopkinton, MA 01748.

It’s 3:00. Do you know where your donkey is?


         That’s what a local radio station is playing, followed by a bray, as the introduction to the song “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey.”

       The first time we heard it, my 9-year-old daughter and I howled with laughter, particularly in light of this:

                                                                                                                                                                                For the record,  I would like to point out an error.  Contrary to implication, said officers did not assist in the re-homing of the donkeys.  Never even saw ’em.   Aided by a neighbor with a bag of apples, we apprehended them ourselves.

     The last time Jo-Jo and Foggy had an excellent adventure,  we took blueberry pies to the neighbors whose lawns they desecrated.  I am beginning to think that people are letting them out while we’re not looking in hopes of getting a pie.

    Incidentally, I’d never heard that “Dominick the Donkey” song before we moved to New England.  Must be an Italian thing.  Or maybe it’s new, and I’ve just been out of the South too long.   Question for you Southerners:  Are your Christmas stations playing this song?    Here’s a YouTube version of it:

A tale of two Jens



      To the dismay of 1,405 women (and one man), I did not change my surname when the Massachusetts court system pronounced me divorced.

      It was something I never even considered.  I have been Jennifer Graham for nearly 20 years and never much liked my maiden name anyway. Besides, my four children are all Grahams, and our snowman-making kit says we’re the Graham family, as does the Christmas-tree skirt, and in matters of such import, I cede authority to the monogrammers at Land’s End.

      So, no, I expect to be Jennifer Graham forever, and I’m sorry about that, Jennifer Phillips Graham.

      This other Jennifer Graham is a writer with four kids, too –though I am thankful she is in Ohio, a safe distance away.  She came across my work via Google one day, and sent me a bright, funny email, which led to others, and so we’ve become friends.

      A few years older than me, JPG calls herself “the original” Jennifer Graham, a distinction that is technically correct, but morally wrong, so I just call her “Jen 1″ or JPG.

    For all I know, Jen 1 is  really an evil genius who befriended me only so I will bequeath her my dot-com domain name when I pass.  If so, the plan is working; it’s hers unless someone else offers me a million dollars and a year’s supply of second-cut hay.

      Anyway, last week, JPG wrote a column about names, in which she mentions me.  At the risk of losing my tens of readers to another Jennifer Graham, here it is:

    Funny stuff. Well, except for the website, which she blatantly stole from me.  But can Jennifer Graham plagarize Jennifer Graham? Without prior knowledge, could anyone even tell our work apart? I’m betting not, and plan to collect the links to her best bylines and add them to my website.  It’ll make her life that much easier when she takes over my domain name.  Which will come, by the way, with a couple of donkeys, and maybe a snowman-making kit.

Blonde as a bat


       I never was a natural blonde until I had my children.  

       Before they arrived, everyone assumed my hair color was – depending on my degree of blondness at the time – either the result of an incredibly expensive and skilled beautician, or, more often, a science experiment gone bad.

    But then I gave birth to one, then two, blond children.  The third arrived, shockingly, with black hair, but it was soon pushed out by white gold. 

    One day, I was grocery shopping at the Publix — the youngest sitting in the cart, the other two trailing behind, looking so much like shining Nordics frolicking amid the canned peas. Another shopper approached, looked them over, and smiled.  Then she turned to me and said, “Well, I can see where they got their hair.”

     Oh, the joy!  Oh, the pleasure! Oh, the pride!

     Oh, the deceit.

     Well, maybe they did get it from me.  Who knows how much Miss Clairol seeps through the placenta? And all that lemon juice my grandmother squirted on my head as a child… maybe it curdled and settled in my eggs. 

      At any rate, I smiled, and said nicely (and honestly) that I wished my hair looked like theirs. Then I finished my shopping and drove off, happy  to be a “natural” blonde  for the first time since I was 6.

    Motherhood gives strange and wonderful gifts.

     There’s free candy at Halloween, even when you are way past the age of trick-or-treating yourself.

     There’s free lawn mowing. And leaf raking.  Mopping, even, on occasion.

      There are squeaky yellow ducks in the bathtub, and swings in the back yard, and nutritionally useless but emotionally satisfying squirting yogurts in the fridge.

    And, then there’s the euphoria that the first fall sighting of a school bus brings.  Who knew that a clunky hunk of dirty yellow metal stopped in front of my house could bring such liberation and joy?

    For these things, and my, ahem, naturally blond hair, I have my kids to thank.

    The three blond ones.  And the fourth.  Who, because God has a wicked sense of humor, turned out to be a glorious, deep-hued, unfixable-with-lemon-juice, natural brunette.


Postcards from the Edge


           Folly Beach, known as “The Edge of America,” is where we kicked off the annual Tour de Grandparents: 2,000 miles, six kids, 10 states, every Chick-fil-A that would let us in.

     The donkeys did not accompany us; they had a vacation of their own.  Nancy, who adopted them for five months last year, graciously invited them back for a visit. They had a great time there with their old friends and tormenters, and even wrote home!   The “postcard,” if you’re interested in doing one of your own, was designed here:

     While I was in South Carolina, I suffered a birthday – not a big one, but one leading up to the kind of birthday that will emotionally slay you.  To prepare, I’ve been telling people I’m nearly 50 for a couple of years, figuring that when it does get here, I’ll be used to the number, and it won’t seem such a shock. As always, beats the alternative.

     But then, my mother and I went to see a movie, and at the ticket counter, she tried to joke with a grim-faced cashier, saying, “Would you believe one senior and one child?” 

      The guy, not getting the humor, looks momentarily bewildered, smiles wanly, then prints out and hands over two tickets.  Two senior tickets.

    I notice immediately, but the trauma of having purchased my first senior anything was eased by the exhilaration of saving four bucks.

    I waited until we were safely inside before I started to wail.

    SENIOR?   He thought I was a SENIOR?

     Couldn’t he have at least wanted to see some ID?  Has three tubes of StriVectin done nothing for me?

  When I recovered from my AARP-induced hysteria, I asked Mom, who was still bent over laughing, what age you’re supposed to be to get a senior rate. “Fifty-five,” she told me.

   This mollified me somewhat; at least it wasn’t 74.

   But still.  Is it too much to ask for a cashier to ask for a woman’s ID when she’s requesting the geriatric rate? It seems that this should be a common nicety, like holding a door open or greeting someone with “How do you do?”

     Then my right-brain anguish  faded, and my left-brain pragmatism kicked in. The ticket taker had been young, maybe 20. To kids that age, everyone over 40 is three steps from the crypt, no matter how much Botox you’ve had. 

      So I experimented when we got back to Boston.  At the theatre, I ordered tickets for two children, two adults and one senior.   Again,  not even a skeptical glance.   Later, I tried at McDonald’s:  “Senior coffee, please.”  The horror of it all lessened with every quarter I saved.

     But the little angel on my right shoulder had to have a stern talk with the little devil on my left, about not teaching your children to lie in order to save $4.25. So it’s back to full price for me, but with a lilting hope that, when the day comes, this senior business might not be so bad.