The Glory Days

Remember when weekends used to be fun? Two days and two nights of no work or school, and you only had to choose which party to attend? You could go to dinner with friends, see a movie, or maybe hang out at the beach. Whatever you did, you had 48 glorious hours of freedom before the crushing reality of routine brought you back down. If I had only known……

As a stay-at-home mom, my weekends are an exhausting marathon of diapers, whining, cajoling, and frustration. Molly, my five-year-old, is juuuuust old enough to not do anything insanely stupid. She can get her own snacks, turn the TV on, and use marker pens on paper instead of the dining room walls. On the other hand, my two-year-old son Andy can’t make it through a day without a catastrophe. Whether he’s backing blindly into doorframes, tripping and falling eyeball first, or climbing the kitchen counters like King Kong, he always, always ends the day with a new bruise or scrape. His favorite expression lately is “I’m not!”, because every sentence out of my mouth is “don’t do that!” Today, I caught him elbow deep in the pantry, rummaging around. “Don’t take any snacks out!” I warned him. “I’m not!” he retorted, chubby hands full of granola bars and crackers. “Don’t make a mess in the living room!” I cautioned. “I’m NOT!” he answered, as he tipped out a 24 pack of crayons onto the floor. It’d be easier to just have the phrases “don’t do that! Stop it! Clean that up!” playing on an endless loop throughout the house.

This weekend was unusually bright and sunny, so my husband Jeremy and I tried to do some yardwork. Again, the word here is tried. All I wanted to do was dig a hole and put a plant in it.

The Hunter Family’s Guide to Gardening

Step 1: All four family members have jackets on and the correct number of shoes. Some of the shoes are even on the right feet.

Step 2: Exit the house. The baby hears a police siren and beelines it towards the street. Cue both parents screaming and chasing him. Baby protests loudly and starts crying. We’re off to a good start.

Step 3: Where is the shovel? Look in the garage, shed, and laundry room. Shovel is found in the kids’ playhouse, where a fight ensues because Molly was using it as her “witch’s broom”.

Step 4: Dig a small hole. Abandon hole because the dog chases the neighbor’s cat up a tree. Retrieve dog and put him back inside the house, where he barks indignantly.

Step 5: Where is the #@$%&*^** shovel? The baby’s crammed the shovel under the wagon for some reason. Collect shovel and remonstrate the baby, who scowls furiously and retreats to the playhouse to pout.

Steps 6 to 17: Spend the next two hours breaking up fights, screaming at kids to share, fetching water from the house, changing diapers, wiping noses, putting bike helmets on and taking them off, retrieving children from underneath tipped over bikes/scooters/wheelbarrows, and disinfecting scrapes and cuts. The house is now filthy from dirty shoes tromping in and out. The potted plant has withered and died. The shovel is nowhere to be found. Give up and drink reheated coffee. Only seven hours until bedtime.

Life is anything but boring with two kids and an endless list of chores. Between the constant bickering, cooking, and cleaning, it’s a miracle anything gets done. I may be down, but I’m not out, and I have a plan: one day, my kids will be old enough to cook, clean, and do yardwork, and guess who’ll be laughing then? Yours truly will be relaxing on the couch while my two darlings earn their keep! In only ten short years, my weekends will once again be for fun. If I live that long!

Loose Toof

“Mommy, my toof hurts,” five-year-old Molly whined at the dinner table. “It hurts when I eat. I think ice-cream will make it feel better”. Nice try, kid. A quick check in her mouth confirmed that, yep! Molly had her first loose tooth! The central on her bottom gum wiggled slightly back and forth, wobbling more and more with each probe of Molly’s fingers. “Will the toof fairy come and give me money?” she asked excitedly. My back started to sweat at this question; there’s a fine line between encouraging childhood fables and outright lying. “Um, yep, that’s right,” I mumbled. “I can’t wait for my money!” Molly chattered, her face glowing with happiness.

Molly’s loose tooth brought back a wave of memories. I distinctly remember my first loose tooth: I bit into a carrot, and one of my bottom teeth popped slightly out of its socket. Confused, I showed my parents — had I broken my mouth? They reassured me that no, my mouth was fine; losing baby teeth was part of growing up. I also vividly remember the painful ripping of my teeth out of their sockets (shudder). A sharp burst of pain as tooth and gum separated, followed by the coppery taste of blood. My tongue would probe the tender flesh around the wound, until eventually the new tooth would pierce the surface of the gumline. Holy dastardly dentist, am I glad I don’t have to go through that again!

Despite her protests, Molly’s tooth had to come out at some point. A quick twist was all it took, since she had been wiggling the thing nonstop, including with her mouth full of meatloaf at the dinner table. “Now I oot it unner my piwwow, wight?” Molly asked, her mouth full of gauze to staunch the bleeding. “That’s right, kiddo!” I chirped, trying not to swoon at the sight my child’s weeping wound. Eventually, Molly was persuaded to get in bed and go to sleep, since the tooth fairy only comes when kids are unconscious. Lo and behold, under the cloak of darkness, the exalted fairy herself showed up! She stumbled into Molly’s room at three AM, eyes unfocused and hair on end, moving as quietly as her protesting joints would allow. Naturally, she stepped on every creaky floorboard and pointy toy possible, causing her heart to pound when Molly shifted position. Stealthily, with the grace of a drunk donkey, the precious tooth was retrieved from under Molly’s pillow, and a shiny toonie (a Canadian two dollar coin) took its place. Satisfied, the tooth fairy retreated to her warm bed, but not before groggily bashing her knee on a bookshelf.

Molly burst into our bedroom at stupid o’clock. “She came! The toof fairy was here! Look, I got a coin!” Molly babbled brightly. The tooth fairy was cranky from lack of sleep but tried to make an effort. “That’s great, sweetie. Why don’t you go back to bed. Right now.” I mumbled. “How about you show me while we have breakfast?” my husband Jeremy asked, flinging back the covers. As the two of them sauntered out the door, with Molly chattering away, I silently thanked the tooth fairy that visited me when I was a child, thirty-two years ago. Once again, I marvel at what we do to make our kids happy; we’re tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, Cupids, and Santas all in one. Like my parents before me, I’ll sacrifice sleep to put a smile on my kids’ faces – but don’t ask me to do it too often!

A World of Their Own

Isn’t it lovely how kids use their imaginations? They’re so unencumbered, so free of embarrassment and self-doubt. Molly, my five-year-old, built three different musical instruments out of Mega Blocks today. “This one is a chimer,” she told me proudly, “this one is ring-bell, and this one is a banjo.” She busied herself all morning until everything was just right, then loudly played an entire symphony, smashing the blocks with a cardboard tube. The headache I got from her concert was almost worth it. Andy, my two-year-old, is just as full of wonder and curiosity. Though he doesn’t have the vocabulary yet, I can see him observing and experiencing life. “I hide,” he said yesterday, “you count, okay?” He scampered into the living room, giggling loudly. “Where’s Aaaandy?” I asked aloud (standing in plain view, with his hands over his eyes). “Where did he go?” I questioned, looking behind curtains and couches. “Found you!” he screamed, rushing out of the room, and laughing. I guess we need to review the rules of hide-and-seek!

Kids are alive with creativity and wonder. As a child, I wandered around with my head in the clouds. I was full of ideas and stories, most of which involved me saving Earth from destruction. Somehow, out of billions of people, I was the only eight-year-old capable of getting the job done. The details were fuzzy, but the result was the planet was saved, people were happy, and I was rewarded with a puppy. Parades were thrown in my honour, and crowds wept with joy at the sight of me. “That’s her!” they would say, “the girl who saved the world with only a calculator and an Etch-a-Sketch!” I started writing my ideas down, filling journals and notebooks with award-winning novels and poems. The literary world wouldn’t know what hit it! Of course, looking back, the stories are all dumpster fires, never to see the light of day. Of all the things I left behind in childhood, my imagination wasn’t one of them – I use it every day. Sometimes I’m fighting a group of ninjas in the grocery store, sometimes I’m wearing a dinosaur costume and dancing on the sidewalk. Images and ideas float through me, and I still keep journals to write down the best ones.

The funniest part of imagining with my kids is when I imagine things wrong. I grabbed Molly’s “banjo” and started smashing out a tune; we were both going to rock out! “Mommy,” she sighed, “you have it upside down.” Well, excuse me! Andy is equally militant and always ready to correct me. We were playing Hot Wheels yesterday, and he held up a little green truck. “Look, mommy, a bus!” he said, holding it like a delicate butterfly. “That’s actually a truck, kiddo,” I replied. “No,” he retorted, “it’s a buussssssssss.” I kept my mouth shut on that one.

I love imagining with my kids. Whether we’re animals in a zoo or musicians in a band, we’re having fun together and making memories. I’m excited to hear about their adventures and dreams. It’s hard breaking the reverie and going back to being their mom. I don’t want to clean the kitchen; I want to fly like a hummingbird! Why should I fold the laundry, when I can pretend I’m Queen Sarah and they’re my jesters? The worlds we imagine are a million times more fun than the real one. At this rate, the three of us will end up in the same place: with our heads in the clouds!

Bike Rides and Bruised Egos

“Okay, dad, I’m ready. You can take my training wheels off now!” five-year-old Molly chirped brightly. She grinned at my husband Jeremy and me, her cheeks pink, her coat splattered with mud. If only I had my kids’ bulletproof confidence! As Jeremy went in search of tools, I made a mental checklist of first aid supplies to deal with Molly’s inevitable scrapes and bruises. Learning to ride a bike was an all-day task, filled with ping-ponging emotions and damaged egos, and I should know!

My own foray into bike-riding was inauspicious. My dad led me into an all concrete parking lot, with the hot summer sun beating down. I wasn’t wearing sunscreen and possibly not even a helmet – hey, it was the nineties! Dad gripped the back of my bike seat tightly, and I pushed the pedals, wobbling unsteadily. Suddenly, he let go of the seat and I was riding by myself! “DOHNLOOBECK!” my dad yelled. “What??” I screamed, as I headed down a slight hill, picking up speed. “DON’T LOOK BACK!” he yelled. Of course, I looked back, and saw him sprinting towards me, a look of fear in his eyes.

I woke up in the hospital. My mom, sister, and dad were all clustered around me as I lay on a stretcher. Apparently, I had used my face as an emergency brake, slamming into a concrete curb. I’m sure I didn’t “fall into a coma” (as I told my classmates later), but I did lose consciousness. My entire upper lip scabbed over, and to this day I have a scar under my nose. So yes, my bike riding lesson went well! After the trauma subsided and my face healed, I became more determined than ever to ride my bike. For three days, I fell, crashed, and careened wildly on that two-wheeled demon until finally, FINALLY, I rode a wonky loop around the yard. I had tamed the beast! And all it cost me was grievous bodily harm!

So, I prepared myself for the worst when Jeremy took Molly’s training wheels off. She was so excited, and I held my breath as Jeremy steadied her on the bike. She pushed off fearlessly, rode three feet, and toppled over onto the grass. “That was awesome, honey! What a great first try,” I cheered. “Yeah,” Molly puffed, “but I can do better.” She got up, dusted herself off, and tried again. Imagine my astonishment when, within twenty minutes, she was steering and braking like a pro. I’ve got to stop underestimating my kids!

Is this the same little girl I carried in a bundle in my arms? The same little girl I pushed in a stroller? Who is this fearless, courageous kid zooming around the yard like a daredevil? “Come on, mom!” Molly calls out. “Let’s go for a ride!” As I climb onto my bike and clip on my helmet, a thought crosses my mind: this time I’ll use my brakes to stop, instead of my face!

Tantrums and Tears – His and Mine!

Andy, my two-year-old, is a bundle of joy. He’s funny, smart, kind, and his happy giggles crack the ice on my cold, dead heart. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this kid. Every night when I put him to bed, I tell him how glad I am to be his mother. But God almighty, his tantrums make me want to stroll into a bear cave wearing a bacon sweater.

They all start the same – I’ll ask him a simple question; one that’s easily answered, and his back stiffens, his chin drops, and he growls the word “no”. Sometimes I disassociate and pretend I’m the narrator in a documentary on wild animals: “observe the mother’s increasing anxiety. Her pupils have dilated, and her heart beats rapidly. A thin line of sweat is seen on her upper lip. Her child is scowling furiously, furrowing his brow. The mother desperately tries to distract her offspring with a stuffed duck and…… oh! He’s thrown the duck onto the shoe rack. Now, the mother bends down, speaking softly and soothingly. She calmly asks her child what’s wrong, encouraging him to ‘use his words’. This infuriates the child, and he aggressively stomps his foot and screams ‘no! NO! NO!’. Having decided to ignore the child to discourage his poor behaviour, the mother walks into another room. This upsets the child immensely (despite having refused his mother’s help) and he loses all control. Let’s go in for a closer look as he screeches and flails on the floor.”

Andy’s worst tantrum happened two weeks ago, when I took him and his sister Molly to the park. I ruined his fun by not letting him play hide-and-seek in the busy parking lot (I’m so cruel), and he threw a DEFCON Level 5, ear-splitting fit. After distraction, explaining, and ultimatums didn’t work, I eventually walked ten feet away to the swings and left him sitting on the wet ground, shrieking over and over the word “NO!” I’ve got to hand it to him – Andy has the lungs of an opera singer. After fifteen painfully long minutes, he eventually lost steam and wandered over to Molly and me. My first instinct was to wring him out like a dirty mop, but I told him “I’m glad you calmed down” and gave him a hug. Two minutes later, he was giggling happily, but my emotions clenched around my gut. I was angry, embarrassed, and ashamed; why couldn’t he just listen to me? Everything I do is to keep him safe and healthy, and playing “dodge-the-Escalade” in a parking lot is a terrible idea!

“He’s just a baby,” my husband Jeremy constantly reminds me. “He’s still learning.” Why can’t he learn faster? It’s a good thing toddlers are cute, because I would’ve left him at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory a year ago. My plan for now is to wait this phase out. I made it through breastfeeding, sleep-training, and projectile-vomiting – I can make it through the terrible twos. But will I survive with my sanity and nerves intact? With a functioning sense of humour? NO!

Blissful Unconsciousness

“Oh Eleanor, I have crossed a thousand seas to gaze upon your face. Put down that chamber pot and be my wedded wife!” Fitzwilliam declared, his muscular arms gripping Eleanor tightly. He bent his head closer, electricity crackling between them, their lips tingling with desire, and…..BANG!! My bedroom door burst open, smashing into the wall. Two-year-old Andy somersaulted into the room, followed closely by five-year-old Molly. I jolted awake, my heart hammering in my chest. The steamy escapades of Eleanor and Fitzwilliam blew out like a candle. “Get out, get OUT!” Molly hissed, pushing Andy desperately towards the door. “Sorry mommy,” she puffed. “Go back to sleep. Andy didn’t mean to come in here.” Molly dragged her screeching brother back out the door, but the damage was done. I was now crankily conscious, and my coursing adrenaline made sleep impossible.

You don’t realize what you take for granted before you have kids. A toilet rim not covered in glitter. A floor not covered in sticky, pointy, painful toys. A restful morning lie-in. These minor irritations add up until one day, you realize you’re Mega Mom: a minivan driving, pajama-wearing, frizzy-haired advertisement for birth control! Sleeping in is one of the things I miss most (along with my waistline). Pre-children, I could easily sleep in past one in the afternoon, then laze around the house all day. Nowadays, by one pm, I’ve been up for six hours, visited the grocery store, the park, and the bank, and cooked two meals for the whole family!

I miss my independence (mostly on the days when the kids are at each other’s throats, and I would sell a kidney for some peace and quiet). I wish I was the carefree, irresponsible girl I used to be. It’s tough being a playmate, teacher, and referee all the time, especially when the dog is the only one listening (and even that’s infrequent).

But when I miss the things I used to have, I’m reminded of what I have now. Two happy, healthy kids, who laugh at life and teach me to live in the moment. Molly and Andy are already better, more compassionate people than I’ll ever be. They’re teaching me about kindness and forgiveness, and why burps and farts are hilarious. I wish I was more like them.

So even though the days are long, I understand clearly that the years are short. I won’t always be the woman Molly calls “so loveful”, or the mother that Andy demands to hug. I’ll take the mess, noise, and chaos for as long as it lasts, because one day I’ll miss sticky toys and glitter-covered toilet seats!

Drizzly Days

Another day, another deluge. Rainy season is upon us, and once again I’m surprised by just how much it rains on the west coast of British Columbia. Days and days of non-stop showers can drive anyone crazy, and, being a stay-at-home mom, I’m halfway to crazy most of the time! Rainy days are tolerable when you’re cuddled up on a window seat, sipping hot chocolate and contemplating life. When you’re trapped inside with a diaper-clad toddler and a five-year-old who are playing “push me and scream”, it’s another story. I always try and take the kids outside for fresh air and exercise, but on days like today it’s too miserable. The kids might have fun, but standing outside, soaking wet, and watching them rub mud on themselves raises my blood pressure.

When I worked full time (back in the Jurassic Age) rain was my nemesis. In the mornings, I would carefully dress, put makeup on, and style my hair before heading out. By the time I arrived at the office, I looked like a clown that had survived a dunk tank. Despite all my efforts (a large umbrella and my jacket hood), my makeup was smeared, my outfit was soaked, and my hair had both flattened and frizzed. What a winning combination! Eventually, I started keeping a blow dryer in my desk and would dry my hair and clothes in the bathroom, which made for some interesting conversations. “Don’t mind me! I’m just drying something. I assure you, I’m a professional!”

I didn’t enjoy the rain when I was a kid, either. I hated wearing wet shoes and soggy clothes all day. My school had “inside days” but only when a deluge was biblical. During lunch, the teachers would retreat to the lounge, and the student body would run feral in the classrooms. Inside days never ended well for anyone. Lunches were smeared onto chalkboards, books were thrown at ceilings, and one kid infamously flushed his shoe down the toilet (good luck explaining that one to his parents!)

Andy and Molly have no compunction about rain, temperature, or dirt. They’d be outside in their bathing suits right now, splashing in icy mud puddles if they could! And of course, my objections fall on deaf ears: “don’t sit in that puddle! Stop filling your boots with water! Get that mud pie out of your pocket!” They are both filthy, and I am annoyed. I try to remind myself that childhood is for exploring, learning, and experiencing, but it’s hard for me to live in the moment because I think of all the moments I’ll waste cleaning up after them! Rinsing dirt and mud off their jackets isn’t how I want to spend my time. Perhaps after their next rainy day adventure, I’ll walk them through an automatic car wash – maybe then they’ll get clean!

Attempted Conversation

My sister Emma called me on the phone recently, and we tried to have a conversation. Tragically, all four of our children were awake at the time. Here’s a transcript of our attempt.

Me “Hey, how’s it going?”

Emma “Well, I’m alive. How are you?”

Me “Terrible. Andy (my two-year-old) learned how to climb onto the kitchen counter. I caught him in the spice rack eating garlic powder.”

Emma “Terrific.”

Me “His breath could strip paint off walls.”

Emma “Where do you keep the liquor?”

Me “On top of the fridge.”

Emma “Move it. Either drink it all or hide it in the garage. That’s what he’ll go for next.”

Me “Got it. Did you need something?”

Emma “Yeah, do you have that recipe for……. spit it out right now!”

Me “The recipe for what?”

Emma “Wait, sorry, Leo (her three-year-old son) has a dime in his mouth, which is weird because I lost a dollar yesterday.”

Me “God knows where you’ll find the other ninety cents.”

Emma “That kid’s gonna be pooping out coins like a slot machine.”

Me “You needed a recipe?”

Emma “Yeah, that recipe for the baked onion rice?”

Me: “Oh, that’s easy. It’s just one cup of rice, then you (high-pitched squeaking in the background) What are you doing? What does that sound mean? Are you in pain?”

Emma “What’s happening?”

Me (Muffled sounds, followed by more squeaking) “Molly (my five-year-old) says she’s a mouse, and she’s eating a dried pea off the floor. We haven’t had peas in weeks.”

Emma “I don’t know how to respond to that.”

Me “At least she’s cleaning the floor?”

Emma “The recipe? For the rice?”

Me “Right, yeah, so it’s one cup of rice, and then you…… no wait, first you melt some butter in the microwave, then pour it over the rice……”

Emma “How much butter?”

Me “A cup.”

Emma “A cup of butter?”

Me “No! Wait, no, that’s too much butter. Sorry, Andy was sidling up to the stove. He’s eyeing it like it’s Mount Everest. Melt two tablespoons of butter, then pour over one cup of rice.”

Emma “Got it.”

Me “Then add two cups of boiling water…”

Emma “Water that’s boiling? Or just hot water?”

Me (Annoyed) “What? Put two cups of water in the kettle, then once it’s boiled pour it on the rice.”

Emma “Oh, okay. Hold on, Alice (her six-year-old daughter) wants to say hi.”

Alice “Hi Auntie Sarah! I got a new dress today, and it’s beeeyotiful. It’s pink with sparkles and it’s a princess dress because I’m a princess. Do you have any princess dresses?”

Me “I don’t think so! Next time you come over, I’ll show you my dresses and you tell me what you think, okay? Can you put your mom back on?”

Alice “Okay!” (a loud clunk, followed by Emma sighing)

Emma “She dropped my phone on the floor. Where were we?”

Me “I think we were at water on the rice. Okay, so then you….. OH MY GOD, GET OFF THE COUNTER!

Emma “What? Is the baby on the counter again?”

Me “No, the dog is. How did that even happen? Hang on, let me get him down. (Awkward grunting and shuffling) Right, so then you…….. wait, where’s Andy? (The sound of glass breaking is heard in the distance) “Oh crap, he’s in the China cabinet! I’ll email you the recipe!”

Like Me

Today was a bad day. I yelled, lost my temper, and made poor choices. I was angry at the world, and angry at myself. Today I felt like a failure.

It started first thing in the morning. I had forgotten to wash Molly’s favorite shirt, the purple one with sequins. As soon as she woke up, she started whining and pouting about it. “Just wear a different shirt,” I snapped, hurrying around the kitchen making breakfasts and lunches. “No,” she replied, bottom lip trembling, “I want my purple shirt. You said you’d wash it!” No amount of cajoling could shake the scowl from her face. I sent her off to school under a cloud of righteous five-year-old anger.

It was Andy’s third tantrum of the morning that tipped me over the edge. I felt depressed and unappreciated. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and cry, but I couldn’t; Andy’s diaper had to be changed, the laundry had to be done, and a million other chores hung around my neck like an anchor. There was no time for me. I was exhausted, I was spent. I had no more patience, no more love to give. I didn’t want to spend time with Andy; I didn’t want to color or paint or play with toys. I just wanted to be alone. A wave of guilt washed over me as I held back tears. Shouldn’t I be happy? Shouldn’t I be grateful that I’m able to stay at home and watch my kids grow? I didn’t feel grateful. I felt sad and angry and hopeless. I was one dirty diaper away from a tear-filled, snot-dripping, blubbering meltdown.

I didn’t know motherhood would be this hard. I didn’t know that some days would be a minute-by-minute countdown until the kids were in bed, so I could finally claw my way back to sanity. I didn’t know how utterly frustrated I would feel every single day. If someone had told me I’d be picking up dirty socks and Cheerios, and scraping baby drool off the couch forever, I wouldn’t have believed them. I can’t remember the me from before I had kids; she’s a ghost, a spectre found only in photo albums. I miss her.

My mother must’ve had days like this. I was a whiny, pessimistic child that complained a lot. “Some day you’ll have kids,” she’d tell me, “then you’ll know.” Twenty-five years later, and she couldn’t be more right.

Tomorrow will be better. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better. Molly’s favorite shirt will be clean, and Andy might have fewer tantrums. I’ll pick up the dirty socks from the floor and sweep away the Cheerios. Today was just a bad day, and that’s okay. Life is imperfect and chaotic, and today it got the better of me. Tomorrow I’ll climb out of bed, rub the sleep out of my eyes, and try again.

Reconnecting

Valentines’ Day is just around the corner (another one my favorite candy related holidays), and emotions are high. I view this day as an excuse to eat an entire box of chocolate, but some people see it differently. First loves, new loves, and reconnections shimmer with possibility, and I was inspired to search for an old friend of mine.

I didn’t like elementary school. The teachers were strict and humorless, the work was boring, and some kid kept stealing my lunch. The one thing that made it bearable was my best friend, Melissa. She and I were inseparable; we were Laverne and Shirley, Mary and Rhoda, Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball. We’d bring our Archie comics to school and trade them back and forth, giggle together in class, and take turns pushing each other on the swings. Once, I was having trouble with a worksheet on analog clocks, and I whispered to Melissa for help. “I can’t tell you the answers,” she whispered back, “but I know you can do it!”

The following year, my parents moved our family to a bigger house, which meant Melissa and I would be at different schools. How could this happen? After many tears and two broken hearts, we promised to keep in touch. What followed was something amazing: a ten-year long pen pal friendship, with letters and cards mailed back and forth. Melissa and I would exchange stickers, poems, and magazine articles. I sent her my very favorite book (about an angel in love with his human girlfriend) and made her swear she’d return it when finished (she did). Stamps were purchased in bulk, and trips to the post office were made amidst our busy lives. Every few days, I’d make the twenty-minute walk down my street to the mailbox; if there was nothing from Melissa, I’d make the return journey uphill, and she would get an earful on our next phone call.

Melissa’s birthday parties were the stuff of legends. One year she had a toga party (my mother draped me in a bedsheet secured with pins), one year she had a luau, and one year she had a murder mystery party. Her other friends and I were all in our party clothes, eating snacks, when Melissa walked into the room, collapsed on the floor, and held up a placard that said, “I HAVE BEEN MURDERED!” We followed a series of clues around the house and yard while shrieking about her tragic death.

Our letter writing campaign eventually died out, and Melissa and I lost touch. I thought about her over the years, and hoped she was doing well. Life got in the way: graduations, travel, work, weddings, kids. Melissa lived in a corner of my heart. I kept all her letters in a cigar box, including the envelopes (she had Garfield address stickers that I always envied).

Recently, I found the time to track her down. I sent her an email, hoping I’d found the right person. To my great delight, Melissa wrote back! She was thrilled that I had found her, and we set up a video chat. I don’t know what she’s been drinking, but she must have stumbled into the Fountain of Youth along the way. She doesn’t look a day older than when I last saw her. We reminisced and laughed about old times. I reminded her of our Archie comic obsession, and she reminded me of an unfortunate spiky hairdo I once had. In one of life’s great twists, Melissa and I are once again pen pals. I’ve got a new box dedicated solely for her letters.

I’m so glad I reconnected with my friend. We were together for such formative periods of our lives, and she left an indelible mark on my heart. This Valentine’s Day, I’m looking forward to sharing more stories and memories with my old pal. Which reminds me – I need to buy some stamps because I owe her a letter!