Two things happened today…

This morning we (finally) signed the papers to buy our house!

IMG_5854We hope to host family and friends here for many years to come.

(PLEASE! Let’s not move for AT LEAST another twenty years, my husband begged).

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Our house has been referred to as The Old Rectory in real estate documents we’ve seen, because it was originally built in 1920 for the minister of the Presbyterian church around the corner from us.

One day my kids discovered another name on an old sign hidden behind some foliage:

IMG_5853This fall we discovered why it’s called Leaf Land:

IMG_7006IMG_7048Leaf Land it is!

The other momentous occasion that happened today was my son’s graduation from middle school. I thought for sure we were going to miss it, but our attorney was able to meet with us earlier than expected. We raced over to the school straight from his office, expecting only to see our son waiting for us in front of the school. Miraculously, we arrived just moments before they started calling out the names of all the graduates!

I can still hear the wistful tone in my dad’s voice as he held my oldest son in his arms for the first time. You’re not going to believe it now, he said, but in the blink of an eye he’ll be grown and out of the house and you won’t even know how it happened.

Every single day I feel like it’s all going much, much too fast.

I swear to you this happened a few months ago:

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Preschool

And this? This was yesterday:

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First day of elementary school

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Slow it down a little, please!

 

This girl…

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First Day of Elementary School

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Elementary School Graduation

We’d been preparing for my daughter’s graduation for months. As I drove her to school, we would discuss the particulars: what she should wear, the fact that she should – for this very special occasion – actually comb her hair, etc. Most importantly, I apologized to her in advance for the fact that there would be ugly crying. I explained to her that it simply couldn’t be helped. She would have to avert her gaze and pretend that her mother was not disgracing herself in the audience with racking sobs and snot streaming out of her bright red nose.

Nothing went as planned. The dress I thought she would wear was too small for her. I pulled a dress out of my own closet and it fit her perfectly. She put on a pair of my ballet flats and they fit perfectly too. When we stood back to back, I realized she had snuck past me. My ten year old daughter is now about an inch taller than me.

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It was only a week before her graduation when I realized I would not be able to be there. I broke the news to her in the car as I drove her to school one morning.

I’m so sorry, I’ve got some really sad news. I just realized that I’m going to have to miss your graduation because of my conference in Denver, and I’m absolutely devastated!

I never realized until that very moment that it’s actually possible to hear and feel someone grinning from the back seat.

My husband texted me photos of the graduation as it was happening. I stood transfixed in the middle of a busy Expo Hall as the photos came through one by one. People rushed around me, politely averting their gaze, as I stood there staring at my phone with big fat tears streaming down my face.

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Vox clamantis in deserto


I was scrolling through my emails on Friday when I noticed the name of one of my former Russian professors at Dartmouth. He was posting on SEELANGS: the Slavic and Eastern European Languages and Literature, a listserv for the rare breed of eccentric who makes a life of studying such things.

“Oh no!” I groaned out loud as I saw that it was an obituary he had written for Richard Sheldon, one of his colleagues and one of my beloved Russian professors. Lately, notices of their deaths have been coming with distressing frequency.

Vox clamantis in deserto is Dartmouth’s motto: A voice crying out in the wilderness. For four years, I was that voice crying out in the wilderness and I was crying, “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?!” I was not white. My parents were not rich. I was not conservative. I was not athletic. I did not like being outdoors. I did not like to drink. I hated the cold weather. Further magnifying my sense of alienation was the fact that everybody else seemed to be delirious with joy to be there. Clearly, there must be something deeply wrong with me.

Here’s how I arrived:

It was September 1987 when my parents and I rolled into Hanover, New Hampshire for the first time like a raggedy tribe of Korean pimps in a grotesquely large, winged white Cadillac, vintage 1970. My parents had two daughters in college and a third about to start. There was not a dime to spare. Until very recently, my dad’s ride had been a brand new car, an unexciting, but eminently sensible, American-made beige sedan. It was the first new car he had in more than a decade. Shortly before I left for college, my sister got into a horrifying accident in which the car flipped multiple times and she was flung from the car into oncoming traffic on the highway. Miraculously, she walked away from the accident with a slight concussion. The car? Scrap metal. A friend of my dad who owned a body shop gave him the Cadillac to tide him over until he could get a new car.

It had been fun driving that car around Arlington, Virginia with my friends the summer before I left for college. They laughed out loud when they saw it for the first time and immediately christened it “The Batmobile.” It would take at least two or three 360 degree revolutions of the wheel to steer the car around a corner. When we finally did make the turn, everyone sitting in the bench seat would go sliding in slow motion for what seemed like an eternity until they ended in a scrunched up heap against the car door, laughing all the way. It was campy and fun then; now as my dad docked the hulking beast by the side of the pristine Dartmouth Green to consult a map, it made me feel glaringly, comically conspicuous. I may as well have landed on the Green in a space ship.

A white-haired gentleman dressed in a natty forest green blazer and a bow tie briskly walked up to our car to give us directions. I willed myself into oblivion, as I sank deeper into the depths of the car, which was lolling like a beached whale in that perfect New England landscape. I suppose it was fitting that I should arrive at this place in such an ignoble way. It was the first day of four of the most trying years of my life. I never felt more alienated, more like a fish out of water than I did at Dartmouth.

Eventually, I found my tribe. It turns out, they were all hanging out in the Russian Department. People who are attracted to Russian and Russian literature tend to be unconventional, maybe even slightly strange. THIS was where I belonged!

Professor Sheldon was one of the professors who made my four years in the wilderness bearable. His large eyes rimmed with thick lashes gave him an otherworldly, vaguely Dr. Seussian appearance. He habitually seemed to be staring off into some far distant shore. He was always slightly disheveled. His students would affectionately tease him for his sartorial choices, especially for his outlandish ties. He would smile bashfully and good-naturedly. We sensed that he returned our affection. We sensed that we were safe with him.

This is how I left Dartmouth:

On my last day at Dartmouth I processed across the Green. I walked flanked by classmates I didn’t know. The only thing we shared was that all of our names began with “K.” I knew my family was out there in the crowd somewhere, but I couldn’t see them. I walked with mixed emotions. I was elated to be finally graduating, but I also felt disappointed in myself for not having made more of my time there. I blinked back the tears that were forming in my eyes, feeling as lonely and vulnerable as I had that first day when I arrived with my parents. Suddenly, I heard my name being called. I turned my head to see all of my Russian professors standing in a cluster, benevolently smiling, waving, and cheering for me as I walked by.

I’m sad I never got the chance to tell those professors how much that meant to me at that moment. I never got a chance to say that because of them, I left that place feeling like I had belonged after all: to the very best, most civilized and humane corner of the wilderness.

Spasibo, Professor Sheldon, Professor Loseff, Nina Pavlovna, and Professor Scherr. You meant the world to me.

Graduation Day

My son graduated from elementary school today. The occasion was marked by tears…when he discovered that the pants he had been planning to wear were about two sizes too small. There were high emotions…when a chest of drawers fell on his brother who was rifling through his own clothes trying to find a pair of pants to lend to his little brother. And traditions were upheld…when I dropped my son off for his last day of elementary school ten minutes after the bell rang. (Kids thrive on consistency, right)?!

Despite all the drama, there were truly sweet moments that I’ll hold on to:

Hope your weekend is wonderful!

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Weekend Snapshots 4

FRIDAY

Sadly, our record-setting, unprecedented eight day streak of being on time for school finally, inevitably ended…

It was graduation weekend at the University of Virginia. At work we had our own graduation celebration and awards luncheon for international students. It was so inspiring to talk to the award recipients from all over the world. They will take away much from their experience here, but they will also have immeasurably enriched the life of this community in lasting ways.

Feeling invigorated, I headed to Helping Hands, the after school elementary service group where I work with a much younger set of future movers and shakers. One day these little ones might also set the world on fire. This session, we’ve been holding a supply and money drive for a wonderful organization in our community called Shelter for Help in Emergency or S.H.E. This agency provides services to and a safe house for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. (Find out how you can help S.H.E. here).

On this particular day, our kids just had fun making super easy bird feeders.

Rice Cake Bird Feeder

Directions: Make a hole in a rice cake and attach ribbon. Coat rice cake with peanut butter and dip in bird seed. Hang in a covered area…Voilà!

SATURDAY

“Chef Tedduccini”  whipped up a batch of pain au chocolat for breakfast. (Frozen Trader Joe’s brand…SCRUMPTIOUS)!

Chef Tedduccini

Our little renaissance man took a break from his labors to strum his ukulele:

Ukulele

Rained-out soccer games meant I finally had time to run a billion errands, starting with a long overdue trip to the blood bank.  My daughter scored me a Hello Kitty bandage by telling the phlebotomist that I should get a pink ribbon to match the skirt she was wearing, but that her favorite color was actually red:

Giving blood

Hair cut:

Hair experiments:

And…Happy reunions. Colin got back home just in time for bedtime hugs.

(Sure, he looks happy now, but just wait until I start meting out his punishment for having abandoned us for so long…)

SUNDAY

Quick day trip to Arlington to see my family, including my brother who was visiting for the weekend.

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