We were just talking about you, the person says. I am standing in the entrance to the elementary school that all three of my children attended. This is the first time my eldest child has returned to the building since graduation. Beaming staff members surround her while her siblings gather coats and backpacks. We are on our way to attend the second of two Broadway performances. After meeting my husband in Times Square, the younger children and I will head to Rockefeller Center to gaze at the enormous tree and visit favorite stores.
When I became a member of my college varsity fencing team, I was required to hold my husband's hand on the bus during our first away trip and sing him a song. I had known about the initiation ritual for weeks, but had no idea what to perform. So I resorted to the music I knew best – the songs I heard growing up attending Broadway musicals.
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This is my best friend, my little daughter says. We are standing in the cafeteria of her school, where she has just dragged me over to make the introduction. A line of children stretch out their hands one by one to be garbed in latex gloves before they reach for bread to make sandwiches. Her father and I are both dressed in black leather. We stand against a wall while we watch her eat lunch as she laughs and shares toys with friends. The school superintendent comes in, and cameras flash while she makes sandwiches with the kids.
When I was thirty-three years old, I began searching for houses in the suburbs. For months I haunted the website where all real estate agents in New Jersey post listings. I quickly found that all of my assumptions were incorrect. After I gave birth to my second child, the search took on a new and desperate urgency. I was sleeping on an air mattress in the living room that daily became a bounce house and cheerio repository. When banks started collapsing, I knew it was time to make a move before we were locked into a long-term real estate position. Much to my surprise? I found exactly the home we were looking for three blocks from where we were living.
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By the time you get to our age, pretty much everyone has been exposed to human papilloma virus, the person says. I haven't, I respond. I've never had an abnormal pap smear. I am sitting in a cubicle. My youngest child plays with a wood toy on the floor. On a counter, a metal tray holds syringes for annual flu shots. Why are we talking about HPV? Because I have to decide whether to administer the vaccine to my eldest child. A bag bulging with mushrooms sits beside me, a last-minute purchase for Thanksgiving dinner. At home, a bowl is filled with green tomatoes. My three children have been discussing recipes to cook them for weeks as they decide when to harvest the last crop from our balcony garden.
I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal during my husband's senior year in college. We stood together in the tiny kitchen in his dormitory. My dog hovered beside me, his fur tickling my legs as I balanced a cutting board over the sink. I had been baking for my spouse from the first week we met, when I made him a giant chocolate chip birthday cookie. Over the years, I made pies and simple meals. But this? Was the first time I had ever roasted a turkey. The entire meal took hours to prepare. I didn't realize how long a turkey takes to roast, plus it was still frozen when I put it in the oven. Eventually, we ate. And now? I email my eldest child a series of recipes along with the precise timing for the family to prepare her father's favorite vegetarian Thanksgiving dishes.
Stay where you are, I will come get you, I text my daughter. It's too dangerous for you to walk on the street. I glance outside the window, where snow is falling heavily. The first sign of danger came at 1 p.m., when I received a message saying no fencing practice. The local university canceled classes due to bad weather, which means the coach will not be there. I have an evening event that I cannot miss, so I pick my three children up early from school and apply makeup while they play in the snow. We talk on the ride home about tooth fairy visits and upcoming tournaments.
When I was twenty-nine years old, I recognized the person cleaning my fencing club late at night. How did I know him? Because he was a former fencer who used to train at the facility. I remembered him because he was incredibly talented, one of a group of younger kids who were training under the same master who gave me lessons in college. What did I also remember? How he lost bouts in national competition due to broken equipment. Both of those memories stayed with me for years. So when the opportunity came to advise my children's school district on how to create fencing programs in all the public schools in the city? I knew this was a chance to make sure that every nearby kid who wanted to fence got what he or she needed.
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