As you ascend our stairs, the photos on the walls tell the story of our family. The photos from long ago (okay, ten years) show my husband and I, thinner, younger and surrounded by friends. They’re pictures of parties and festivals and debauchery – there’s a picture of my husband trying to eat the “Chest Mix” in my cleavage. Everyone’s always holding up a glass. There are pictures of weddings and christenings – family’s, friends’ and our own. There’s one wedding picture we have to take down because the couple’s divorced. There’s a photo of a friend I lost ten years ago. There are pictures of friends that grew apart.
It all started innocently enough. We were snuggling at bedtime and she asked me the question that will ring in my mind forever. “Are the Muppets real?”
I hesitated. So many things went through my head. If she’s asking, does she suspect? Is she old enough to know? What if I tell her they are and she already knows? Finally, and much to my shame in hindsight, I went with the truth.
Tears built up in her eyes. “Then how do they move?” I told her. “Are the people real?”
“Yes, they are.”
The main thing anyone should know about my dad is that he loved money to the exclusion of everything else. This incident happened last year when we went to New York to take care of his affairs.
Our lawyer got the court to allow us access to his safe deposit box while we were still in town. We talked to the bank manager. She was very nice and led us into her office, which was right across from the safe deposit boxes. We handed her the key and she unlocked the box and put it on her desk. She asked us to sign that we opened it, and handed us two stapled signature cards. My dad had signed at least 50 times. Why would someone go to their safe deposit box that much? In our box’s three-year history, I’d opened it twice.
“How often did he open it?” I asked.
The manager laughed. “He came here about three times a week. He’d open his box and go sit in the room with it. It’s right there, next to my office. I’d knock after a while – I do that with all old people. We want to make sure they’re okay. Plus he usually came about 4:45 when we were getting ready to close and we wanted to go home. He’d answer me and sit there a while longer. We can’t kick them out. When he was done, he’d come out and hand me the box to lock up.”
What a difference a home makes! Last year at this time my husband and I were miserable. It was April in Seattle, characterized by cold rain storms – a change from the constant showers in the winter and half-days of rain in the fall. We’re summer people and in Seattle we had to wait forever for summer. If we were lucky, it would come in June. Most of the time, summer came in July but sometimes it would hold out until August. Once summer arrived in Seattle, we had beautiful weather – 70s and 80s and hardly any clouds, but it was too short for us.
We moved back to Maryland in December. Six years ago, we’d moved out by the Chesapeake Bay and we loved it there, but my husband got a promotion that took us to Seattle. We were optimistic, but after six years, Seattle grated on us. It wasn’t just the weather. It was the people. Seattleites, for the most part, are very polite and superficially nice, but they’re very guarded. I knew people for years in Seattle and didn’t learn anything about them. I’m not making it up. The phenomenon has a name: “The Seattle Freeze.” It refers to the moment that Seattleites freeze up – usually the moment you ask them anything more personal than their name. They’re also called “The nicest people you’ll never get to know.” Sometimes you’d know someone for years and then find out they never liked you.
It all started two weeks ago. My husband got a new job that came with a new commute. His old job had him working at home. I liked having him home. We had a good morning routine. We got the kids out of bed, dressed them, got them breakfast and then we’d all eat as a family. Then my husband would walk my daughter to her bus stop and I’d drive my son to preschool.
The new commute would change all of that. My husband had to leave earlier, so no more family breakfast, no more teamwork in the morning. Sort of. These days we divide and conquer. My husband wakes my three-year-old son early, gets him dressed and takes him to school. I wake my daughter, get her dressed, have breakfast with her, and get her to her bus.
It would make sense for me to handle both kids, because I’m home, but we decided on the new routine for two reasons. First, my son is potty training and he always has to poop right about bus time, and if he had to wait, either he’d poop his pants on the way to the bus or my daughter would miss the bus waiting for him to poop. Second, whenever I brought both kids to the bus stop back in Seattle, my son would drag his feet and cry and carry on all the way to the bus stop. My daughter was always lucky to catch the bus.