Mud & Flowers

 “It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”
-Diane Ackerman


Ahhhh! The great outdoors! Though the world outside is still awash in earth tones, we are finally able to (on some days) head outside without winter coats. Noah and Luca played in the yard for hours over the weekend and their frolicking and laughter was well worth the muddy floors and extra laundry. It seems implausible that just a few weeks ago the snow pack was so high it reached the high rung on the fence behind them.

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The snowdrops and crocus have arrived (about two weeks later than last year, but we’ll take ’em)!


At sunset the river is pleasingly clear of ice.











More Time Outside

“At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world: Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening.”               –Annie Dillard


I know it’s time to mow but this blank of daisies covering our front and back yards makes us all very happy.


Basilica San Luca framed by the bushes in our backyard.


We haven’t gotten around to setting up most of the outdoor furniture yet, but these 2 lounge chairs did nicely for lunch on Saturday.


Sunday sunset through the new blossoms.

Friday Night Dinner 8

What We’re Eating And Drinking: French Onion Soup, Chicken Liver Pâté and Kale Salad with Tussock Jumper Sauvignon Blanc.

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Obviously we’ve overdone Friday Night Dinner this week, but Noah’s had the flu and I’ve been playing nursemaid and janitor and short order cook since last Thursday; I needed an excuse to spend some time in the kitchen. Alone. With Netflix running a loop on the iPad (Scandal, Season 2) and a glass of wine on the side. Yep, I made the soup from scratch. And the pâté. It took some time, of course, but the mindless chopping and stirring settled my skittish thoughts into a peaceful, meditative flow and the bouquet from the fresh, searing herbs (rosemary, thyme, garlic) was as invigorating as a hour at the spa. (Well, almost...)

Despite its high iron content (a mineral I’m often deficient of), consuming the livers of animals freaks me out; it’s the organ that detoxifies an animal’s blood after all, so I’m concerned that when you eat liver you ingest all of the bad stuff it removed from the animal, too. I have no scientific support for my theory, mind you, it’s just one of those quirky, discordant principles that we establish to help justify the paradoxical choices we make in our lives, but luckily I do have Adams–a place where you can buy organic meat (and organic chicken livers)–which somehow makes me feel better about serving internal organs to my family. Noah won’t touch the stuff, of course, but French Onion Soup is a favorite if his, so as he slurped down two bowls of the succulent caramelized onion stew, Ray and I smothered toast with the pâté, sipped cool, white wine and balanced out all the possible toxicities with heaps of green kale salad.

Gina: Wow! That looks like a lot of work, and delicious! You must really have needed some time alone. I hope Noah is all better now. Buon Appetito!


What We’re Talking About: Life Coaching


So, I spoke with a Life Coach this week and I’m considering signing up for several sessions of (work? therapy?) with her. Are you guys giggling yet? I know, I know. I’m off on another wild goose chase in my never-ending search for the fix that might steady the wobbly, rickety amusement park ride that is the trajectory of my professional and internal lives. If you are smirking, I don’t blame you. In the years since we’ve been sharing Friday Night Dinners I’ve tried a thousand things: therapy, chanting, meditation, writing, exercise, fasting, yoga and even visiting a shaman, in hopes of gaining some direction and clarity about What To Do Next. Ray thinks it can’t hurt to try again. And as you know, Michele is a life coach herself, so she’s confident that I could gain, at the very least, some awareness about the places I’m getting stuck.

But I’m skeptical. I worry that I’ve tried everything already and that the truth is that I’m just a little bit off inside and no kind of instruction or mentor can figure out how to right it. I also know that I’m impatient, that I want a panacea, that I want to know the future now and that maybe what I really need is to just tighten the yoke of my untamed meanderings, start taking some meds and volunteer somewhere.

It’s times like these when I miss you guys most! When I need your clear-eyed perspective (and my chair at the butcher block table in your kitchen where we hashed out a thousand other matters). So, here, for all of the internet to see, what do you think? About life coaches in general? About change and the need to ask for assistance when the forest you’re lost in is dark and cold…

Gina: Wwwwwhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I feel like I might just burst into tears right now. I’m not being sarcastic. I just finished writing part of my Friday Night Dinner post, and also badly need to be sitting around the butcher block tables with a glass of red and some uncensored conversation. I think these middle years can suck in so many ways – husbands, kids, jobs (or lack of them!), friends, responsibilities, passions, worries, blah, blah, blah. I guess that’s why there’s often talk of a crisis around now. But… let me not get sidetracked… life coaching huh. Yep, we had a very loving giggle over here, but I’m with Ray on this one. It can’t hurt. The rub, as someone I know who wrote a book about considering life often says, is that while a life coach or guru or psychologist or shaman can be instrumental in helping us see our issues more clearly, I’m afraid that only we can actually make a change happen. It seems that you can’t get around the doing…  of something. It might be interesting to write down what you’ve learned from each of these outings in self-reflection. Is it always the same thing(s)? Or do they evolve? If it’s the former, maybe this  life coach can be a final confirmation that you know what the deal is, and now you need to do (whatever!) Or if the thing is evolving, then all of these different stops you’ve made are getting you somewhere, albeit slower than you might want, but you’re moving, probably by doing (whatever) even if only with tiny steps. Holy crap, I may have just given you the advise I was seeking this Friday. (In my case, I’m pretty sure I need to get to doing what I know needs to be done.)

Friday Night Dinner 8

What We’re Eating and Drinking – Cuban Fusion!

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Sometimes a dinner comes outta nowhere. I had no urge to cook tonight (a pretty regular occurrence!) so I poured some red and turned up Pavarotti (inspired by a local radio station that plays him often.) It could have been the delicious Saint Estephe, a favorite at Casa Bouvarez, or the “Nessun Dorma”, or connecting with you via this blog before I started cooking, but somehow, I came up with a good one!

Tostones (Fried Green Plantains), Sautéed Broccoli, Ground Turkey Patties and a mold of Red Beans, Shallots, Parsley and Basmati Rice.

Christine: Yum! And look at how perfect the presentation is! Flower stems and rounds of rice and IKEA napkins. Sigh. I’m also glad to see that the bottle of wine is almost empty. Happy Friday!


What We’re Talking About – The Hamster Wheel

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There was one of these hamster wheels in the playground near the Catholic grade school I attended as a kid. It was one of my favorite things in the park, and maybe where my love of running without getting anywhere began!

As you know and as I’ve mentioned before on here, I have a tendency to want to do everything – things I have the time for, and things I don’t; things that I have a talent for, and things I don’t, things I love and things I don’t. In addition, I’ve inherited some kick-ass worry genes, which means that I can worry like a champ about all of this and even more about the things I’m not doing . I can even worry about stuff that doesn’t exist and may never, ever exist. Awesome, I know. A psychologist would say that I continue doing this because I’m getting something out of it. And I sure as hell am! I get to do a lot of interesting things, talk to good/crazy/boring/evil/gifted/daft people and learn more about our world and the humans that populate it. And in my head, I can create the illusion that I have some dominion over all this activity just by fretting about it. Brilliant, I know. In my brief moments of lucidity, I do realize though, that in acting this way, I also create unnecessary stress and anxiety, often lose sight of the best use of my time, and more importantly, I sometimes lose sight of those who should be getting a bigger chunk of my time, attention and energy. So this Friday night, like so many in the past, is turning out to be a confessional. I bring my sins to the table and hope to god that if I put them out there and we pick them apart, it’ll be easier to spot and stop them when they pop up again. Off I go now to figure out the right penance and how to atone…

Christine: Big talks in the kitchen(s) tonight! It must be the change of seasons that’s inspiring this self-analysis (a transformation that we can FINALLY see happening here in the Hudson Valley–four days before the beginning of April for cripe’s sake) and also the new moon that will be coming to us on Sunday (why do I always infuse mysticism into everything?). Anyway, I know very well that spinning, churning, seething wheel–of the mind, of the body, of all those patterns and habits that we want to change but just.can’ It’s why we have grey hair at our temples! And bags under our eyes! And are soooo crabby sometimes!

There’s synergy in our conversation tonight, once again. I think we’re both stirring up a lot of mind goop with all of the writing and the posting and the laying bare that we’re doing on this blog. We’re bound to get stuck in it once in awhile, right? I’m certainly not one to assign penance or encourage you to atone for any perceived shortcoming. Hell, wading through All of The Stuff is difficult enough without adjudicating it! Nonetheless, I appreciate your propensity for Catholic analogies and I think you’re right about putting one’s sins (ahem) on the table for examination (and tagging), in the hopes that those acts will help one to recognize these sins (ahem) and eradicate them(!) the next time they show up. It’s a process, of course. And one that takes a lifetime (sigh). A yoga teacher I once studied with offered a similar teaching but used the metaphor of seeds & plants and weeding and pruning. She used to say that our bad “seeds” (the destructive habits, patterns of negativity, harmful behavior, or, in your case, all of the doing) are going to keep coming up, forever and ever. Our task, if we want to be happy, is to start to recognize these ‘bad’ seeds and to learn to pull them up before they sprout and grow into big redwood-sized trees of pain and negativity. Sure an redwood tree can be taken down, but that job requires a bulldozer and a saw and will leave a huge, gaping hole in its place. Better to know which seeds are the ones that grow into giant trees and tend to them early!

Sounds like you’re on the right track, sister. Hugs.







Cosa Fare a Bologna?

What to do in Bologna during the coming week?


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It looks like I’ve missed the majority of the “Settimana del Libro e della Cultura per I Ragazzi” (The Week of the Book and Culture for Children), but if I can organize my schedule today, I’d love to check out the Illustrators Exhibition at pavilion 33 of the Fiera of Bologna (libreria internazionale nel padiglione 33 di Non ditelo ai grandi) where 100 classic and brand new children’s books’ illustrations are on display. In case I can’t get it together, a few festival-related events around the city will be running into April. They’re listed here.


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We’re still in time to catch the start of another citywide event that starts on Friday, La Scienza in Piazza 2014, Food Immersion! It’s an annual festival when Science takes over Bologna’s central piazzas and those of a few neighboring towns. This year, the organizers have cooked up 17 days of exhibits, workshops, and kids’ labs centered around…what a surprise…food! Specifically, all the events will connect the audience to the science of food. The line-up of happenings for kids looks interesting, but of course, they’ll be in Italian. Although hour-long lectures about food-related science might be a hard sell in this family, I may be able to get them to motivate for one in particular called “Ciocco Science“, chocolate science! I love that even the Museo Civico Archeologico (The Archaeological Museum) is in on the festival with a degustazioni (tasting presentation) tying food to the science of philosophy. “The meeting will conclude with a cocktail cured by the “chef of history” Claudio Cavallotti, who will offer the public tasty, but philologically rigorous, recipes from Greece and Magna Grecia handed down from ancient sources.” When would I get another chance to taste philologically rigorous recipes?!!


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I’m most looking forward to this one, the Future Film Festival, the International Festival of Cinema Animation and New Technologies, which starts next Tuesday. Their program for the week includes short films and features in diverse styles – stop motion, 2D and 3D animation, even old school hand drawn films! – created by artists from several different countries. They also have labs for kids, including one workshop with well known animator, Stefano Bessoni, who will show the children how to create and animate fantastic creatures in clay.

Buon divertimento! Enjoy!























What’s going on in the Hudson Valley?

What to do in the Hudson Valley this week?



On this Saturday night only, an organization that Gina worked with in the states is hosting its annual fundraising party and auction. The Garrison Children’s Educational Fund is a fantastic nonprofit foundation that raises money and provides grants to support educational, artistic and athletic programs at Zo & Leeloo’s old school (the Garrison Union Free School District) back here in the Hudson Valley. The programs the Fund supports go beyond what is offered in the school’s standard curriculums (specifically hands-on activities and classes that enrich the children’s knowledge and understanding of the art, history, science and culture of the Hudson River Valley and their effect on Philipstown and the nation). The reality that parents and local businesses are the folks who are financially responsible for ensuring that our children get exposure to the arts & nature is a blog post for another day; it’s the posters advertising this event that are hanging all over town that have me roused this week…though I won’t be attending the party this year as Stefan’s date as I have in years past. I know that the basis for the design of the thing is the work of my now-Bologna-living friends and it makes them feel closer somehow.



OK. This one is an event that actually ended two days ago, but since its topic is so relevant to the goings-on here on the blog today, I can’t let this post go by without acknowledging what a delightful two weeks this was for the Hudson Valley. Each year over 180 restaurants throughout the Hudson Valley get together to offer fantastic deals on lunch and dinner meals for two weeks during the month of March. (Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2014 featured prix fixe, three course dinners for ~$30(US).) During these cold, dreary, dark weeks of the year it was so uplifting to see all of the windows at the restaurants here in town packed with foodies and regular folks who just needed an excuse to get off their sofas.

Ray and I had thirteen restaurants on our list that we wanted to try, but only managed to make it to one–a local place where we had a delicious lunch with my parents. There’s always next year.



The Jacob Burns Film Center–a wonderful, nonprofit cultural arts center about 30 minutes south of Cold Spring–is dedicated to presenting independent, documentary, and world cinema to the Hudson Valley. For the rest of this month (and into the beginning of April) it will be hosting the Westchester Jewish Film Festival, a 39-film celebration that reflects the diversity, spirit and resolve of the global Jewish community. This year’s lineup of dramas and documentaries includes magic, Israeli history, family secrets, and the most joyous person you’ll ever meet (who happens to be the oldest living Holocaust survivor).

The films I’ve seen at the Jacob Burns Film Center always leave me moved in some way–and inspired to write or read or do any kind of art–and I’m sure these movies will be inspiriting and stirring as well.


Cranky Pants at the Mercato

After a late night out to catch a show by jazz musician, Avishai Cohen, at Paradiso Jazz in San Lazzaro di Savena, I find myself bleary-eyed and wandering the aisles of Carrefour, our local giant supermarket. There may have been a time when a post-midnight date, and a pre-7am rise would not have devastated my body systems, but I can’t think back that far. Nowadays, the next day of usual activities – running to school before 8am, doing errands, working, meetings, making food, chauffeuring to after school activities, dealing with homework/baths/dinner/bedtime – becomes a pure hell, traveled through in a state of mental and physical exhaustion that utterly negates whatever fun was had the night before. Hence, the precipitous decline in such frivolous behavior.

So, wondering why I bothered, but knowing that somehow it’s helpful to spend time alone with your significant other doing things together that you once thoroughly enjoyed, I am dragging myself through this Walmart-sized place starting with the produce section, which is enormous, and full of lovely things. However, it involves donning this ill-fitting fashion accessory:


No doubt a remanent rule of Mussolini-era fascism, you’re not allowed to touch anything without it. Sure, I could ignore the regulations but who wants to risk the scorn of the nonna in the tangerine aisle, who will not hesitate to tell me how unhygienic I’m being, maybe even hiss “schifosa” (revolting) at me?

Another thing that makes this the most time-consuming and tedious part of the food shopping experience is this infernal machine…


and the Italian custom of having to mentally record the “tasto” number of each thing you choose, get to a scale, enter said number and weigh each item separately. When you have to do this with 10-15 items, it’s kinda painful. (I know, I know, first world problem, but I’m cranky!) Not only this, you’re also obliged to place each item, no matter how big or small, in a plastic bag. Feeling guilty about all the plastic in the world, as any good first world-er generally does, I’ve tried to get away with not bagging some things, only to have an annoyed check out lady scold me and send me running back to produce. Have these folks somehow missed the news about that giant island of plastic floating in the Pacific, or not tuned into the millions of recycling sermons out there? And don’t people wash this stuff when they get home anyway?

Since I know that this morning, it’s me and not them, I’ll finish up this post with some of my favorite parts of this store…

Beautiful veggies!



Wheels and wheels of parmigiano reggiano and grana padano!


Every kind of cured meat possible, including the giant piece in the front, pride of the region, mortadella, aka Bologna!



























Wait, what?!? Il mercato (in Bologna) makes us…HAPPY!


Highlight of our year. Wish this place were closer…

OK….so I might not be able to provide a fair assessment of the Carrfour–when juxtaposed with Gina’s real-life, everyday experiences of the place (to my left…over there…)–BUT


I remember spending three blissful hours in the aisles of that store (with three of my favorite people in the world no less (Noah, Michele, Stefan)) and being in the company of riches… RICHES I TELL YOU…everything from perfectly sized and shaped organic, strained lemon yogurt cartons, to holiday-gift-packed GIANT cases of DeCecco pasta, to three gallon jugs of fresh, green olives. And then getting to pick out the best of the fourteen options of prosciutto in the meat department of the store (which is roughly the size of half of our local Stop and Shop).

I mean I’m sure my Americana perspective is skewed–we live in the land of bulk avocados from Walmart and wilted lettuce from D’Agostino…if we’re lucky. (I’m still not sure what the sell at the Piggly Wigglys(ies?) down south. Okra? Jicama?) Really, just having access to grocery store food that is remotely fresh and, well, fresh seems, here anyway, like a gift to us folks who need to go out of our way to add a vegetable to each meal.

Obviously my perspective is skewed by my frame of mind and this interminable winter and, well, love. (I miss my friends.)

Nonetheless, and because I have a really sick kid this week…whose illness is making me all gushy and emotional inside and also stealing away all of my moments of writing time…I thought this would be as good time as any to admit to my boorish, yet truthful, covetousness of Gina & her family’s life THERE.

And, you know, also share a few moments of the bliss of their new life that we were able to imbibe in with them just a few short months ago.


First, the wine:


Oh, the wine. Simple. Delicious. Old.


Life on a vineyard is pretty spectacular.

winewalk Especially when you live on a vineyard whose tasting room/show room is within walking distance of your house.



Also, there’s the vinegar:


VINEGAR THAT TASTES LIKE HEAVEN. Mixed with ice cream. And marshmallows. Michele & my dorky kids (above) tasted them all. Even the ones mixed with fig. And then gave their opinions of the odd flavored liquid to the very nice (and cute) donna.

(Our bottle of 25 year old balsamic from this place sits in a coveted spot on our counter here in NY, next to the fancy olive oil from Murrays, (NYC).)


Then there is Venice. Sweet, sweet, Venice. Only a 90 minute drive away.

You know…




I actually took this photo. With my phone. As we were walking by. This place actually IS Brigadoon.

(If the place wasn’t sinking into the Adriatic I’d move there tomorrow.)

And I still might. Especially because of the friends who are there.




The friends.


(this is actually Modena, not Venice, but it matters not.)


Ah, Italy.

Italian As A Second (or Fourth?) Language

Mamma mia!”, “Ma… Cosa fai?”, “Come stai?”, “Via!”, “Va Be”, “Aspetta!”, “Capito?“, “Vai!”, “Cosa facciamo?” and many other short phrases are now part of the things heard coming out of our children’s mouths on a regular basis here at home, at school and on the street. These are often combined with a hand gesture that is internationally recognized as Italian, the one that involves pressing all your fingertips against your thumb with your palm facing upward, and shaking the resulting pyramid of fingers up and down rapidly near your face, preferably while hunching your shoulders up, and craning your neck forward so that your chin sticks out. Yep, that’s the one.  Another favorite gesture is done by spreading all your fingers wide on both hands, pressing the fingertips together, then shaking the hands quickly under your chin. This instantly adds a level of stupefaction to whatever you’re trying to convey. For example, when you add this hand movement to “What are you doing?” (Che cosa fai?) you could alter the meaning of the words to express “What are you doing, you moron?!” or more subtly “What are you doing? Are you nuts?!”, depending on your facial expression while  saying it. Unlike Stefan and I, the kids haven’t seen these gestures in dozens of different movies and TV shows depicting Italians or Italian-Americans, so they don’t think of it as ridiculously stereotypical. This is simply how their grade school friends and teachers actually speak, with their hands moving about constantly.

Every day I see that they are taking in the language (gestures and all!) little by little, but that doesn’t stop me from being taken aback every time I walk into a room where one of them is communicating in this brand new language. Sometimes it’s Leeloo trying to explain something to her good friend, Emma, who is just learning English (“Vai!, Spiamo lei!” which means Go! Spy on her!), or it’s Leeloo singing to herself as she does her homework, either a pop tune from the radio (Quando una stella muore, fa male…; When a star dies, it hurts..) or a traditional song that she’s learned in school (Era una casa molto carina, senza soffito, senza cucina…; It was a cute little house, without a ceiling and without a kitchen…). In all cases, she has no idea that she’s switched to another language, she’s not trying, it just happens. Another time it might Zoel at an event, like one recently where he was wondering around with his sister, and struck up a conversation with a grandpa and grandma that were listening to the live music. By the time I made my way over there, they had been talking for 15-20 mins, so you can imagine my surprise, when I hear everybody speaking Italian. It’s not very sophisticated or fluid speech, but it’s definitely Italian! They’re asking him questions about the States and about their first few months here, and he’s answering, sometimes stopping to translate for Leeloo when she misses something. The Italian “nonni” are being very kind and patient as they listen and carry on the conversation for another 15-20 minutes!

I hear them both coming in the door right now from school , and as Zoel bounds up the steps he’s teasing Leeloo saying “Tu sei una fetta di torta!” (You’re a piece of cake!) and Leeloo responds  “Cosa?!!!” (What?!!! -I see the accompanying gesture in my head.) When they get up to our home office and see the subject of my post, they gleefully start telling me about all the parolacce (bad words) they’ve learned at school. The most printable one being un pezzo di cacca, charming in any language.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this for us, the parents who have been trying to get them to speak Spanish and French since they were born with mixed results, is that it’s happening without any interference from us. They have Italian class four times a week, and that’s helping them to understand the grammar and pick up vocabulary. Then there’s the fact that the majority of the students in their school are Italian. We made a conscious decision to go with the least international school we found when we started planning this experiment a year ago, and I’m thrilled we did. It means that games on the playground, side conversations in line, chit chat in the cafeteria – the fun bits of school – all take place in Italian, and when language is a conduit to entertainment, it seems to be a pretty compelling reason to get in there and figure it out.

As they go off to play this afternoon, behind me I hear Leeloo asking Zoel, “Should we do dinner in Italian tonight?” I like it. Molto buona idea, ragazzi!


In the clip below, Leeloo shows how “Eh… Buona Notte!” not only means “Good Night”, but  also, “Hey, Are you sleeping or something?”

Here, Zoel shows off the ubiquitous Italian gesture of stupefaction:

Leeloo demonstrates what her friend says when she doesn’t understand something at school:





To Dance or Not To Dance

kids-dancingThe middle school Spring Fling! dance is Friday night, an event that Noah has decided he will not be attending–thereby launching (yet another) mental battle in the war zone that is my brain, a clash between all those questionably motivated instincts of mine–the habitual ones that are armed with clips of fear and worry about his future–and my less aggressive, quieter and better-reasoned tendencies that gently insist that his now is what matters most.

And not ‘now‘ in the sense of that 60s hippy slogan “Be Here Now” (though a little bit of that, too) but ‘now‘ in the sense of “What does his now need?” without me trying to make everything better all the time with the perpetual adding-on-of-stuff (in the form of activities and classes and experiences) that modern day American parents are wont to do.

I realize that this is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve made American parents the whipping boy for my meanderings here, but it’s okay because I’m an American parent, too. One who has fallen victim to media reports and the pressure to groom a successful, well-rounded kid. I’ve read all of the books and the articles and the opinions of “experts” (each of which claims something separate and unique and contradictory as the Truth) and have been left with heaps of information in a bottomless pit of confusion. My own intuition as a parent has gotten lost somewhere in this unsavory, though well intentioned, child-rearing stew.

My first reaction to Noah’s rejection of the dance was to insist that Noah GO TO IT, as if the decision were mine to make; as if this event, and Noah’s capacity to enjoy himself at this event, had anything at all to do with me. As I’ve mentioned before, Noah is a kid who is engaged with the world. He is active in our community theater, he plays the drums in a kids rock band, his Destination Imagination team is going to the state tournament next weekend, and he plays baseball every spring. He’s a thriving, busy, relatively happy kid (with as many quirks and flaws as anyone) but one who certainly isn’t missing out on life. Why did it seem to matter so much to me that he attend this dance?

Of course my job as his mother is to steer him away from dangerous and questionable activities and nudge his attention towards soulful, heartfelt ones and a school dance can, depending on one’s purpose and perspective, represent the whole spectrum of virtue to depravity. But morality wasn’t what I was stuck on (this time, anyway). I realized that it wasn’t as much the activity of the dance that I was lobbying for, but my want for Noah to say ‘yes’ to it. And this, dear reader, is one of those moments of parenting when you realize that your own unresolved shortcomings have leaked out and are threatening to sully everything around you.

The thing is, I’m not a ‘yes’ person. I’m waaay more comfortable saying ‘no’–to activities and vacations and house parties; to shopping trips and late night movies (and matinees). I’m an introvert who, staring in the face of a midlife crisis, is left wondering if saying ‘yes’ is the magic bullet. That if I had said ‘yes’ to more opportunities and adventures during these past twenty years, things would seem brighter. What if I had taken those dance classes or not given up teaching or stayed in Belize or started writing poems when I was seventeen? Would I be richer? Happier? More fulfilled?

And in that vein, would this dance be some kind of break-through for Noah in terms of his social self-consciousness? (He doesn’t like big crowds. Or eighth graders.) Would he meet some new kids and finally find another forever-friend–the kind he’s had a hard time tracking down since Zoel left? Isn’t this dance just a good experience for him to have? Isn’t it just logical to attend school functions, if only to be able to join in the conversations about them on Monday in the lunch room?

Or will Noah really be as miserable as he thinks he’ll be there…and spend the evening staring at the clock and trying to will time away? What’s the lesson in that?

It’s tricky to figure out which uncomfortable moments in life to push through and which ones to avoid because you just know you aren’t cut out for them (or them for you). It’s even trickier to try and teach an 11 year old to tell the difference. Probably a good rule of thumb is this: (something that I learned from my friend Alana) if yours is the tendency to say ‘no’, to lean away instead of in, then it’s probably good practice to force yourself to engage from time to time. For me, therein lies the challenge. To agree to dinner and drinks with friends. To decide to stop staring at the river and reading Twitter (not posting to Twitter, mind you) and to get up off my butt and leave my house from time to time.

Noah, on the other hand, has a pretty busy schedule. We have to turn down activities and say no to things all the time. In this case, him saying ‘no’ to this particular dance anyway, seems like less of a fear-based rejection of middle school–of life–than a thing that he simply just doesn’t want to do. And in this case I’m going to encourage him to go with his gut. No dance. No fling. No pressure from me.

On Friday night we’ll be eating pizza and watching The Voice and, most likely, taking turns dancing in our living room when the good songs come on. And nobody, but nobody, will want the night to end.