Thursday, June 10, 2021

Home Grown

I swear it wasn’t that long ago that I had three kids under the age of 3. Sometimes it feels like it was just a few short months ago that I had a toddler wrapped around each leg and a baby in my arms. Only a couple of weeks back that all three could still climb into my lap together for a bedtime story. Just the other day that they were learning to pedal tricycles, ski down the bunny hill, and sound out words.

But somehow, now, my oldest has to bend slightly to hug me, and next week my not-so-little littlest wraps up her elementary school days in a place that’s been a part of our family’s life and daily routine for most of the last decade. She’s ready to move on – the kids always are by the time they’ve progressed from small kindergarteners to almost-teenagers. And I’m calmer about this milestone than I thought I might be, but I’m betting it’ll take a while before I get used to turning the other way, toward a different school, at the bottom of our hill for the daily drop-off and pickup.

I remember standing in the elementary school foyer on the first day of kindergarten for my older two children. Back then, I was used to preschool-sized kids who couldn’t quite pronounce their Rs and were still learning to tie their shoelaces. On that morning, as my two 5-year-olds stuck close to my side, a bit anxious about their first day in the “big school,” the 6th graders seemed enormous and so grown up.

Now, of course, my perspective has shifted. I am used to (although sometimes still surprised by) the still-growing stature of my daughter and her 6th grade classmates, who are all approaching or have already surpassed my height. But those kindergarteners seem so tiny – even if it sometimes seems like last week that my own kids were that small.  

The end of each school year is one of those times when it’s easy to contemplate the changes in our children. Some are moving on from preschool, others – who, really, were learning their shapes and letters in preschool not so long ago – are graduating from high school or (gulp) college. So, their growing up offspring is at the top of many parents’ minds.

When your children are babies, it seems as if everyone – parents of older kids, strangers in the grocery store – tells you to “enjoy every minute,” that it passes quickly. And, on some level, you know they’re right. But then you’re also in the midst of changing diapers and cutting food into tiny pieces and being woken at all hours of the night. It’s exhausting.

All that exhaustion fades into the background, however, when a small human, whose world literally revolves around you, hands you a bouquet of dandelions or blows a kiss from the outfield in a t-ball game or snuggles in with a favorite stuffy for a cuddle – or says in a voice impossibly sweet, “I love you, Mama.”

And the next thing you know, they’re asking for the keys to the minivan so they can go out with their friends. OK, OK, so we’re not quite there yet. But judging by how fast these years seem to go, we’ll get there next week. Or tomorrow. Or five minutes from now. 

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's June 10, 2021 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Forward

Three more weeks. That’s how long my kids have to wait until they’re fully vaccinated. While most shots – to protect against such seemingly far-fetched ailments as tetanus and polio and diphtheria – are events to be dreaded at annual doctor’s office visits, the coronavirus vaccine was one all three of my children were eager to get.

This vaccine lifts a world of worry from their shoulders, one I hadn’t fully realized they’d been carrying these last long 14 months. Yes, getting the vaccine will mean less mask wearing and more hanging out with friends. But it is so much more than that.

When vaccination opened to the 12- to 16-year-old age group, I scheduled first shot appointments for early June, figuring the kids would be out of school by their second dose, and more easily able to handle any side effects. But when I happily announced this news, all three said they wanted their shots sooner. As soon as possible. They were tired of waiting. Tired of wondering when they’ll be able to hang out with friends – whenever and wherever they’d like – without masks.

They are done with pandemic worry. They are ready to move forward.

My kids have been lucky this past academic year to have spent almost all of it in school. Yes, they wore masks to class, for hours a day. Yes, they had to stick with their limited cohorts, which meant no mingling at lunch tables or in hallways – and, for my 6th grader, missing out on many of the traditional last-year-of-elementary-school events, including the field trip to Boston, a series of outdoor education hikes in the mountains, and getting to be leaders for various activities of mixed age groups at school.

But they have not been isolated. Their human interaction has not been limited to seeing friends and classmates only through a screen. They played soccer in the fall and competed in ski races through winter, both activities that are as much about being with friends as they are about athletics and competition. When they had questions about schoolwork, they were able to ask their teachers in person. They’ve had the welcome routine of going to school each weekday morning.

Still, amid all of this not-quite-normal, there’s been an underlying fear. Fear of getting sick. Fear of getting someone else sick. Fear of being ostracized if they did contract Covid. Being vaccinated won’t eliminate this anxiety entirely, but it alleviates it in a huge way. One shot in, my kids are already feeling that Covid concern ease a bit. One down, one to go. Forward.

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's May 27, 2021 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Weeds & Seeds

Spring opens, most years, with a one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance. Cold rain and snow twirl around sunshine and warmth, as the odd summer-like day and maybe an unexpected frost cut in now and then. Through this spring cha-cha, the landscape greens up, the earliest flowers – both wild and cultivated – bloom, and the trees unfurl their leaves. As color seeps back into the world, gardening tasks lengthen my to-do list.

With a spattering of veggie beds and a perennial garden we revamped during last spring’s time of Staying Home, I’ve been fitting the gardening in between work hours and soccer games, woods wanderings and playing catch in the yard, dinnertime and bedtime. Much like spring, my gardening efforts come in fits and starts.

As soon as the growing things emerge, it seems the weeds quickly outpace whatever it is we’ve planted. Last week, my son and I plucked new weeds from the front garden and spread mulch around clumps of daylilies and irises, moonbeam coreopsis and barely out-of-the-ground astilbe stalks. We got about halfway through the job before running out of mulch, and the other half remains on hold until we have the time (and the truck) to collect more. Cha-cha-cha.

After considering what edibles to plant this season, waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for warmer weather, and sketching out what will go where, on Saturday I dropped the year’s first veggie seeds into one of the raised beds the kids helped my dad build last year. Into the freshly turned soil, I carefully sowed snow peas and beet seeds and spring greens. Still to come: green beans, carrots, squash, cucumbers, sungold tomatoes, maybe a row or two of potatoes, a few onions. It may take me the next month to get everything in, but it will happen. Eventually. Cha-cha-cha.

Last year, I grew two rows of zinnias between the snap peas and the bush beans in the big vegetable garden out back. This year, I think I may fill one of the smaller garden boxes in the side yard entirely with flowers – more zinnias and sunflowers and maybe some snapdragons. These, of course, we cannot eat. (Well, maybe the sunflower seeds, but we’ll likely leave those for the birds.) But they are nourishing in other, also important ways.

Through spring’s uncertain dance and into summer I’ll wait, hopeful, for the seeds to sprout, then for the stems to grow tall, and for the tightly furled buds to open. I don’t know what this dance is called – not a cha-cha or a waltz or a tango – but the choreography is pretty close to perfect.

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's May 13, 2021 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.