[kids get off the bus this afternoon and continue a conversation in progress as they walk in the door]
Anna: “Eagle’s Nest” is dumb.
Carlo: it’s better than any idea you have.
Me: What’s all this about?
Carlo: They’re having a contest to give a nickname for the new school building. My suggestion is “The Eagle’s Nest.”
Anna: And it’s dumb!
Me: So what’s your great idea?
Carlo: She doesn’t have one. She’s just saying everyone else’s ideas are dumb.
Me: That’s not nice, Anna. Especially if you don’t have a better idea.
Anna: Whatever. All the ideas are dumb.
Me: You should call it “Dad is Awesome Elementary School.” [strikes a triumphant pose]
Me: “The Craig Calcaterra is Awesome and His Kids Are Lame Elementary School.” [I start dancing; mostly The Running Man]
Anna and Carlo: AAAAAAAARGH!
Me: DAD IS AWESOME ELEMENTARY!!! [now doing The Cabbage Patch]
Anna: Oh. My. God.
Me: [still cabbage patching]
[Anna and Carlo run to their rooms and close their doors]
Me: [sits down, giggling to myself, knowing that the highlight of my day has come and gone]
People love babies. People look forward to their kids going off to college. Personally, there is no better age than the one where you can embarrass your kids and they can’t do a thing about it. These are truly the Golden Years.
It was just a couple of years ago that I started cooking. Like, actually cooking as opposed to just throwing big pots of pasta or chili together. In the past couple of months Anna has really gotten into cooking. She likes to help whenever possible. I’ve let her do some basic things like scramble eggs, but she has been itching to make her own things.
This morning she wanted to make “something brunchy,” and specified that it should not be something “boring like we usually eat.” So I told her, fine, find something to make and we’ll make it.
Anna went to the cookbook she and Carlo got for me (with an assist from my mom) the first Christmas after I got divorced. It’s actually a very useful cookbook, made all the better by the fact that the egg on the front looks like me:
She picked out a puffed baked pancake recipe. Luckily we had everything on hand, so we didn’t have to get out of our pajamas to make it. She began:
All I helped her do was to (a) get down and turn on the blender; and (b) move the heavy cast iron skillet in and out of the oven. She did everything else.
For the first few minutes I was dubious:
But it came out like this!
The middle was a bit gooey after the called-for cooking time, but we stuck it back in for a few more minutes and it came out really nice. I’d say next time we’ll use less butter than it called for — and I’ll be sure to have some fresh berries and maybe some whipped cream around, as the syrup was a tad boring for something so fun — but otherwise it was all aces.
Anna: 30 years younger than me, but ready to lap me in the kitchen.
I signed the contract to build the large suburban house in which I currently live in the fall of 2004. It is no coincidence that, a couple of weeks before that, I found out that my son was on the way. This while I had a nine-month-old daughter at home. To say, then, that building this house was a well-reasoned and well-considered move would not be wholly accurate. It was a function of sheer panic.
Not that it’s been a horrible move. Nine-plus years after moving in and I must say that I’ve gotten what I needed out of this house. It’s a large, clean space in a good school district. It has been a good home for the kids and me, even if it’s not exactly in a place I would’ve chosen to live had I not been motivated by that sheer panic. New Albany, Ohio is pleasant. It has been good to my kids. It is home to some people I like. But I can’t lie: if it weren’t for the vagaries of school districts, I wouldn’t be here. I’m reminded of that every time I have to give my address: “Butterworth Green Drive.” God, who chooses to live on “Butterworth Green Drive?”
We all live with our miscalculations, however. Besides, they really are great schools.
When I got divorced I decided to keep the house. I didn’t have to. I could’ve sold it or tried to find some way to stick my ex-wife with it or something. But fighting and disruption is not anything I wanted at the time. I was all hung up on “Battlestar Galactica” back then and decided that I’d treat the place like Commander Adama treated his ship and crew. The world may have been ending outside, but inside this boat we were going to sustain whatever sense of normalcy and routine we could, goddammit. I was going to keep this ship jumping and flying for the sake of the kids, if not humanity itself.
That worked for a good while. But, being honest, it was more about me maintaining my sense of normalcy and routine, not me doing it for the sake of the kids. Those two have always been a couple steps ahead of me in terms of adapting to new normals. They spent half their nights at their mother’s apartment and now spend half their nights at her house with her boyfriend and his daughter and they haven’t missed a beat. They handled me dating and then Allison moving in (and out) and it hasn’t fazed them. Whether changes have been big or small, they have always been ready for them before I thought they’d be. And usually before I was too.
A few weeks back the kids visited my parents in Colorado by themselves. I was in this large house alone for five days. During that time, I became painfully aware of just how little of it I use when they’re not around. Hell, even when they are here now, they’re far more likely to be in their rooms with their computers or books than out in that large bonus room I had to have back in 2004. And we rarely if ever eat in that big dining room I had to have back in 2004. The guest room, which seemed essential? It’s used twice a year. If that. This place is over 2,800 square feet. It’s ridiculous enough for a large, full-time family. It’s practically obscene for three people, two of whom are only here half the time.
While I was realizing that, I also realized that the biggest source of anxiety I have right now is not being able to afford to send my kids to college. I make ends meet just fine, but I don’t save enough. Certainly not enough to pay for the kinds of places Anna and Carlo’s test scores suggest they’ll be going one day. My biggest fear is that Anna will come in with the mail one afternoon and say “I got into Stanford!” And I’ll have to say “um, that’s nice honey, but have you considered enlisting in the Navy first?”
Back when I had those kids and built this house I was a lawyer and I assumed I’d be overpaid forever. I love what I do for a living now, but it’s been a long time since I was a lawyer. I realized that I need to stop making life choices as if I still were.
So I made a life choice: I decided to sell this big old house and buy a smaller, more reasonable one. A week ago I put an offer on a townhouse. As of this morning I am in contract to sell this place. Assuming things don’t go sideways, I’ll be out of here and into the new place by the end of October. It’s not radical change. The townhouse is in the same neighborhood. I’m literally moving two blocks away. Good schools still rule everything, after all. But it is more reasonably sized and more reasonably priced.
The kids are excited because I’m getting them all new bedroom furniture. I’m excited because, for the first time in over five years, I have a savings plan which is based on the actual facts and circumstances of my life and not on vague wishes, hopes and emotions. I’m a writer raising a couple of kids who are probably going to cost me a lot to send to college. Not a lawyer dictating the circumstances of his life and certainly not the captain of a Battlestar protecting humanity from destruction.
Someday, maybe nine years from now when Carlo is starting his freshman year in college, I’ll finally get to where I belong. Maybe that’s an old, 1920s house in a leafy in-town neighborhood like the one I fled in a panic nearly ten years ago. Maybe it’s an apartment above a shop in a large city on the coast. Maybe it’s a fortified compound in the middle of nowhere. I go back and forth on this stuff all the time.
For now, though, it’s going to be a three-bedroom townhouse on Griswold Drive. And that seems wholly appropriate. Real people live on Griswold Drive, I think. It’s not for those swells who live on Butterworth Green.