Everybody’s dancing but me

This is the week of the happy dance in the Cincinnati area.
School starts Aug. 24 in our district. Some schools started last week. Others start this week.
Parents all over the region are clicking their heels high in the air.
They are doing jigs, popping their joints, sliding gracefully across the kitchen floor.
Not me.
I haven’t even bought school supplies yet.
I’ll be dancing away Sept. 9 when my twins start preschool. I adore those little guys and they are a blast, but I get nothing done when they are around. They will go for only four hours a day, two days a week.
We’ll all benefit from that.
But I’m finding it hard to let the older kids go this year.
I’ll be honest.
I have great kids.
My oldest son is nine and my daughter will be eight this month.
Eightty percent of the time, they get along beautifully. They are each other’s best friend. When they do argue, it’s never because one was intentionally cruel to the other.
They don’t do that kind of thing.
And they are really smart: book smart and people smart.
I can talk to them about grown-up stuff and they understand. I can explain the impact of their own behaviors and they understand. They are sensitive and empathetic, so much so that I often have to remind myself that they are children.
And when they are gone, I miss them.
Two weeks ago, they went to Pennsylvania for seven days with my husband for their grandfather’s funeral. I’d never been away from them for so long before and I quickly came to appreciate how much they help me around the house and with the twins.
Yes, they have their moments.
Sometimes, they are so whiny I just want to scream.
Sometimes they decide to do “experiments” and they destroy my kitchen.
Sometimes they find every reason possible to avoid going to bed and when 9 o’clock turns into 11 o’clock, I’m ready to tear my hair out.
But there is one other thing that tips the scale in their favor, no matter what else my older kids might do:
When their friends ask them what I do, they don’t say, “She makes us dinner.” They don’t say, “She drives us to school.” They don’t say, “She cleans the house, takes care of the twins or does the dishes.”
They say, “My mom writes books.”
My mom writes books.
That’s what they say.
Nope.
I just can’t feel the rhythm of that happy dance.

The Canadian professor from Sri Lanka

I knew the small man with the smooth dark skin the moment he walked in the door.
This was The Canadian Writers Festival at the New York State University College at Oswego.
The year was 1987.
I was the student director (and the bartender).
As far as I knew, only one author was not native to Canada.
A Sri Lanka-born professor.
A man I’d never hear of.
A poet who’d written two novels.
I served this man a drink and spoke with him briefly.
I don’t remember much except that he seemed kind, humble and thoughtful.
I bought his latest novel and got his autograph.
Despite my heavy class load, despite two part-time jobs, despite my editor position at the college newspaper, I read Coming Through Slaughter in two days.
It was unlike anything I’d ever read and anything I’ve read since.
A blend of poetry, fiction and interviews, all telling the story of Buddy Bolden, a real-life musician said to be the originator of jazz. A genius whose career was cut short by madness.
It was and is beautiful.
For more than a decade, I pushed that book on professors, friends and acquaintences with little luck. I just couldn’t get them to understand. This wasn’t just a novel. This was art. A multi-dimensional work of art.
Except for the woman I met in Arizona.
She understood. She was from Sri Lanka and her daughter attended preschool with my son. One day, she brought me a novel. Anil’s Ghost by the same author as Coming Through Slaughter.
I devoured it.
And I wanted more.
But I got busy.
And I forgot.
Until one day, in 1996, I was perusing the movie section of the newspaper.
I spied a review for a new movie, The English Patient.
The movie was based on the book by a Sri Lanka-born writer named Michael Ondaatje.
The man whose drinks I poured.
The man whose novel, published two decades earlier, was a masterpiece.
The man who forever changed the way I think about fiction.