Moving Again

38712069_10155677329586245_3347849478777339904_n“You moved here from Massachusetts?” The maintenance man’s eyes widened. “What do you think of it here?”

“I love it, but it’s harder than we thought to afford the rent on this place. We’re in the middle of buying a home off-island.”

“You know you’re only paying for the name here, right?” He grinned at me from the wall he was sawing into. Water had seeped through a window, rotting away the wood until it was gone. It looked fine, but smelled terrible after a good rain. “Everyone likes to say they live on the island. The other schools in the area are good, too, you know. The houses here look fancy but aren’t built much better than they are anywhere else. I spend a lot of time here fixing the same problems. Window dressing; that’s what you’re paying for.”

I thought about what he said and was inclined to agree. We love our beautiful neighborhood and our friendly neighbors, but on the other side of the river, 2.5 miles away is a nice brick house that has our freshly-signed names on the deed. It’s about the same size and age as the home we’re renting, but $100,000 cheaper and with no HOA fees! That means: no amazing community pools and beautiful sections of golf course woven artfully throughout the neighborhood. It also means: no small fortune going to the Home Owner’s Association, whose lackeys are constantly breathing down our necks. I swear, we keep our yard looking as nice as everyone else’s (most of the time), but we got onto the HOA’s radar. It feels like they’re watching us like hawks. I rather like yard work, but knowing someone is going to judge my efforts sucks the joy right out of it.

Our new house is a good size, in a pleasant neighborhood with a respectable, smaller school, but it isn’t elegant. Not a bit. It’s a good, sensible home that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. That makes me a little sad. I like walking around our current neighborhood with the immaculate yards and pristine ponds, and coming back to our rented house with its stately, tall ceilings. The ceiling is so high, we’d need to buy a gadget on a long stick to change our lightbulbs. An ordinary stepladder isn’t going to cut it. I also like that my book group meets at the country club, where we are served wine and the women’s restroom is decorated in Kate Spade. I don’t golf and rarely dine there, but it makes me feel vaguely important to have a country club in my neighborhood. To be honest, though, elegance isn’t all it is cracked up to be, especially when it’s of the suburban cookie cutter variety. I have gotten so lost driving around the island, where all the houses look similar and all the street names sound the same: Does my friend live on Waterbridge Court, or Bridgewater Court? (Oddly, neither of those streets have a bridge anywhere in or near them). Inside these perfect homes, however, I do know my way around. Our neighbor across the street boasts the exact same floor plan as we do, and the others are pretty similar. I never need to ask where the bathroom is when I’m a guest in someone else’s home.

The high ceilings of my rented home are impressive, but don’t lend themselves to cosiness. Even with rooms full of furniture, our voices echo. It isn’t at all nice to hear your tantruming child echo. Our new house has sensible ceilings, which my husband is very happy about. My inner snob, however, is not. I always wanted my own McMansion, and now that I’m in one, I’m reluctant to leave so soon. It’s stupid and I feel like an entitled prig for feeling this way, especially in light of the fact that so many people have lost their homes in the California wildfires, but there you have it.

I’ll miss looking out my bedroom window every morning to see the ducks and geese sailing proudly along the waterway behind our house. Our new house won’t have this view, but it will have a much more private feeling with a tall wooden fence and an above-ground pool.

I can probably keep attending book club meetings and can easily walk around Fleming Island whenever I feel like it. I’m only moving 2.5 miles away, for crying out loud. I know we’ll be so much more comfortable in a home that we own. Living in a rental makes me nervous that my kids will somehow manage to destroy it before our lease is up. Still, I can’t help but feel a teensy bit sad that living on my picture-perfect island didn’t work out. Even if much of it is window dressing.


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Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

This week with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings has been exhausting. It’s dredged up very painful memories for a lot of people, myself included.

I’m just going to jump right in with both feet and state that I think women deserve a Supreme Court Justice who hasn’t been credibly accused of sexual assault. I don’t want to get into whether I think the man is guilty or not. The hearings are more comparable to a job interview than a trial. No one is trying to get him convicted or thrown into prison.  I just don’t want him in a high, lifelong office with this shadow looming over him. I have difficulty believing he will rule unbiasedly in cases about sexual assault. Is it so hard to produce another nominee with a clean background?

I’m a moderate Democrat, but when I saw Kavanaugh introduced as the nominee, I honestly felt hopeful. He seemed like a genuinely good person. I was happy for him and his wife and daughters, as they stood on the podium looking so proud. I said a prayer that God would help him be a good Justice, and that he and his family would be protected. I was inclined to trust his personal views wouldn’t have much sway on how he interpreted the Constitution. I was inclined to believe he would do the best he could to be a fair and righteous judge. This is what I would expect of all the Justices, Democrat or Republican. But with these credible allegations hovering over everything….

A lot of people are asking if his whole life should be ruined because of something that may or may not have happened 30 years ago. Well, I don’t think that not getting a coveted job is the same as a ruined life. I have no desire to send the man hate mail or prevent him from working ever again. I just don’t want him to hold a lifelong office that will affect everybody. As far as what he and his family (and his accusers and their families) are going through now, having their reputations dragged through the mud, well, I am extremely sorry for everyone involved. I hate to think of what Kavanaugh’s wife and daughters are feeling right now during what should have been a time of pride and celebration for them.

This isn’t my political bias speaking. I was a Republican for most of my life and love and respect many people who disagree with me politically. I would truthfully be equally upset (perhaps more so) if Kavanaugh were a Democrat like me. I was shocked by the hypocrisy and called on Al Franken to resign from the Senate when he was credibly accused of groping and forcibly kissing women. I was relieved that John Conyers was pressured to resign after sexual harassment allegations. Every time a Democrat has been accused of harassment or assault, I have expected them to resign, and most of them were pressured or forced to do so by their party, at least in recent years. (I’m sure we can all think of obvious examples in the past where Democrats have turned a blind eye to sexual harassment when it suited them). I have never, to the best of my knowledge, supported a Democrat or Republican candidate who has been accused of sexual crimes. Not that I’m a mighty fortress of consistency. I’ve exhibited more than my fair share of bias-based behavior, but in the matter of sexual assault and harassment, I’ve held pretty steady, regardless of what side of the political fence I’ve been on.

A lot of people are saying this is about “evil Liberals who want to keep baby-killing legal” trying to protect abortion rights. To them I ask: Is Kavanaugh the only pro-lifer eligible for the Supreme Court? That can’t be the case. Why can’t the president just nominate someone else who hasn’t been credibly accused of crimes against women? I wouldn’t object to a nominee with a clean record, regardless of our differences. It’s part of being a good American and respecting the political process. I humbly ask you all to consider calling your senator to urge them to insist on another nominee —any other nominee. With at least one in five American women suffering sexual assault, this is a huge issue. I and my daughter deserve to have someone we don’t doubt will push for more laws to protect us in charge. Is that too much to ask?

Buster’s Comeuppance


Buster had it coming, I suppose. After the way he chased the five-year-old through the neighborhood last week, he needed to be taken down a peg or two. Rest assured, my dog is a gentle twelve-pound Shi Tsu who doesn’t bite, but when the child started running and screaming, Buster couldn’t resist chasing. He’s an adorably silly-looking thing who seldom gets taken seriously, and he went a little mad with power.

This evening, it was Buster’s turn to be chased. Rather irresponsibly of me, I let my daughter and little Sophie from across the street take him for a short walk on his leash. Sophie is a nice child who loves animals, and after I went back inside, she decided it would be fun to introduce Buster to another one of her friends, a largish dog named Della who lives nearby. A few minutes later my husband pointed out that it might be unwise to leave our dog with such young children, so I headed outside to check on them. Across the street, I saw Sophie hustling my dog away from Della, who was bristling and growling at the very edge of her yard.

“Della!” Her owner walked quickly toward her. “Della, stay!” Della did not stay. Della burst through her invisible fence and zoomed toward my dog, who was frozen in fear. I pelted across the street. Everything happened too quickly. Sophie hurled herself on top of Buster like she was in the Secret Service and he was the Commander in Chief. Della lunged toward them, fangs bared. A horrible image flashed into my mind, of Sophie getting her throat ripped out while protecting my dog. Somehow, I got there first. I pulled the child off my dog and, I believe, physically threw her out of her own yard.

“Run! Get outta here!” I hollered. She ran across the street and sat on the curb next to my white-faced daughter. Buster rolled onto his back in terrified submission, Della lurched in and went for his stomach. Her owner called her off in tones of authority, and the dog hesitated oh-so-slightly. I took the opportunity to seize Buster’s leash and drag him to safety. Della lunged again, and I pulled Buster into the air by his leash, where he dangled, legs churning, like a living piñata. Della must’ve thought he was full of candy because she jumped up and snapped at him. I aimed a kick, but missed. I was about to set Buster atop a wall and kick that dog in earnest when her owner seized her and began dragging her back to her house. She was shouting about how sorry she was and I said something to the effect of “it’s okay, dogs will be dogs” as I ran across the street, wondering if the sticky wetness beneath Buster was blood and if his entrails would spill out when I turned him over.

I asked Sophie if she was all right, and she said she was. She was upset that I hadn’t let her shield Buster. Della was her friend, she told me. Della would never hurt her. My daughter gave me a start, stretched out on the grass in a very good imitation of a faint, but she was also fine. Melodramatic, with no sense of the severity of the situation, but fine. I rushed Buster inside, incoherently explained to my husband what happened, and handed the dog over. I couldn’t bear to view the damage. He carefully looked him over. Buster had been bitten two or three times, but the skin remained unbroken. Obviously, Della hadn’t tried to kill or maim him. The wetness was from him peeing his poor little pants.

Della’s owner knocked on our door, looking apprehensive. She asked after Buster, apologized profusely and offered to pay the vet bill. Her dog was very overprotective of her, she explained shakily. We told her that we didn’t blame her or Della, and to come in and see for herself that Buster was okay. She came in and apologized to Buster. He looked up at her and barked out exactly what he thought of her dog. I am quite sure he cursed. He went on for several minutes, and she did not interrupt.

She retreated, leaving a trail of apologies in her wake, and soon Sophie came by to check on Buster. Once his safety was settled, she indignantly asked, “Did you throw me?”

“Yes, I think so,” I replied. “I’m so sorry about that. I hope I didn’t hurt you; I just didn’t want the dog to bite you.”

“I’m okay. Why did you tell me to get out of there?” Her blue eyes were very reproachful. She realized the impropriety of my kicking her off her own property.

“Because I didn’t want you to see Buster get torn to shreds, and I didn’t want to risk you getting hurt trying to separate them.”

“Oh. That’s okay, then. But I could have protected him. Della would never have hurt me.”

That was my cue to launch into a long lecture about why she should never get between two fighting dogs. After I (hopefully) impressed that upon the child, I walked over to her house and apologized to her mother for my carelessness and for tossing her daughter. She was quite understanding and declared she would give her daughter another lecture about putting her own safety ahead of an animal’s. (Poor Sophie: such is your reward for acting upon noble instincts).

Now Buster is curled up next to me on the couch, jumping up every so often to stare at the door, as though he’s expecting a big dog to burst through. I pat him reassuringly. He looks up at me with adoration. “You are my hero,” his eyes say. “You saved my life.” He’s forgiven me for swinging him around by the neck. I hated to do that, but it seemed the only option at the time. He is rather stiff and sore, and still shaken up, poor dear. My husband invited him to sleep in bed with us (an unheard of treat), but Buster declined. We’ll leave the door open, just in case.



“Tip Her!”

The man’s index finger bored like a drill into my forehead. “Tip her. Tip her. Tip her!” It belonged to a young minister wearing a shiny black suit that looked like a hand-me-down from a pimp. His eyes were blazing and he alternated “tip her” with “sha-na-na-na.” I was not a waitress receiving a gratuity, nor was I at a Sha Na Na concert. I was visiting Houston, Texas for the first time, at a church’s evening service where I’d made the mistake of going up for prayer. Like most 20-year-olds, I was seeking clarity and direction, so when, after a bland and harmless sermon, the minister invited people to come up for prayer, I thought: “Sure, why not? I need all the prayer I can get.” I had no idea what I was in for.

The minister’s finger pressed even harder. I dug in my heels to keep my balance. The room felt oppressively hot and people’s voices buzzed like flies in the background. “Tip her, tip her. Tip her over, Lord!” There had been no preamble. The minister approached me, I smiled in my most friendly fashion, he stuck his finger in my face and ordered God to push me down.

My preferred method of praying in those days was to go for long walks, and quietly pour out my thoughts and worries to God. Afterwards, I would usually feel peaceful, with a deep sense of being loved. This time, however, I felt afraid for my life. The man was clearly nuts. At his side was a plump, bleached-blonde woman with eye-makeup to rival Tammy Faye Baker’s. She was looking at me with gentle concern. “Oh, Lord, would you please just tip her over,” she prayed in a breathy whisper. “Yes, please, God. Do it, Lord. Tip her over. Tip her over. Yes, Father God. Shoomamakura. Ashoomamakura. Hakuma Shakira. Shakira ma ma core. Hallelujah. Hallelujah, Ashanti, hallelujah.” She and the minister were speaking in a heavenly language God had given them, or they thought they were. It all sounded like pop star names and gibberish to me.

Why on earth did they want God to tip me over? And why were they hell-bent on helping him out so much? I knew that a tiny handful of Christians believed in being “slain in the Spirit”, which is shorthand for “God conks you out and does something called soul surgery on you, you might get a vision and you’ll feel incredibly relaxed.” I’d talked to a few people who claimed to have been “slain” and they had loved it. From the way they described it, it was like they’d spent an hour at Disneyland and gotten to go on all the rides without waiting in line. While I didn’t want to knock their experiences, I thought it all seemed kind of fishy. Why did God have to perform “soul surgery” on people while they were out cold? Why did it have to be this big dramatic thing, that involved people positioned to catch you if you got “slain”, so you wouldn’t bonk your head on the back of a pew? Moreover, I didn’t think it seemed very gentlemanly of God to knock people out in order to work on their hearts, like he was slipping some sort of spiritual Rohypnol in their drinks. Why couldn’t the minister just pray for me like a normal person: “God bless Rachel and help her to make wise decisions”? That was all I wanted; not this freak show. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed he would give up and go pester someone else, but he kept jamming his finger into my forehead as hard as he could. My neck was starting to ache from holding it straight.

I finally took a peek at the minister’s face. He was furious! My refusal to keel over was making his faith look weak. “Tip her over, Lord!” he demanded impatiently. “Just tip her!” I decided I’d put up with his nonsense for long enough. I’d been brought up to respect ministers, but I didn’t feel I owed respect to someone who needed to push me over to feel important. I glared angrily into his eyes, and that shocked him. He stopped shoving me and moved on to the next victim, his Tammy Faye Baker lookalike trotting along eagerly at his heels, shaking her head over my hardness of heart.

I’m very careful about what kinds of churches I visit now.


What’s a Little Carnage Among Neighbors?


Looking at the tranquil scene, it’s hard to imagine anything bad ever happening here. Ducks and geese float lazily by as neighbors mow their lawns or sit in their backyards, sipping beer or iced tea.

I’m inside washing the dishes when my husband calls to me from the back porch: “Rachel, come see this! There’s a dog chasing the ducks.” The novelty of a dog chasing ducks is a pretty good indicator of how exciting things get around here. I step outside and, sure enough, there’s a spaniel paddling out in the middle of the pond, making a beeline for a large team of ducks. I’m not overly concerned. The ducks don’t seem to be. They let the dog get close, then easily sail out of his reach. I lean over the fence and watch. Moments later, two small boys whiz by. They’ve run from a house at the other end of the pond, and their faces are red and sweaty and their eyes terrified. “Chet! Chet!” They scream. “Come back!”

I stop one of them. “Are you all right? Do you need help?”

“Our dog has gotten out and he’s trying to catch a duck, ma’am.” (Even when kids are in panic mode here, they’re polite).

“I’ll get a leash and help you,” I promise.

“Thank you, ma’am.” The boy gives me a charming smile and resumes running and screaming.

I go back inside for a leash, a toy and a bag of dog treats, though I doubt they’ll be enough to lure a dog away from a real, live, duck. It takes me a few minutes to find the items. I walk back to the edge of the fence and start to open the gate. The little boys are running back toward their house, shoulders shaking with barely contained sobs and tears streaming down their cheeks. What happened in the space of a few minutes to upset them so? “What’s wrong?” I ask as they streak by. They stop and look at me with haunted eyes.

“Chet killed a duck!” whimpers the younger of the two. His chin is trembling. “He killed a duck and he has it in a man’s yard, and he’s eating it!” His older brother wipes his nose on the back of his hand and chokes out: “We couldn’t get him to stop. He wouldn’t let go, and now it’s dead.” He looks guilty and shell-shocked. The scene is no longer amusing. I can imagine what happened: the duck’s anguished struggle to survive, the dog tearing into it gleefully as the boys try to pull him off.

“That must have been horrible to watch,” I say. “It’s not your fault. You did everything you could.” Their shoulders straighten infinitesimally, before they glance behind them and see something that sends them running again. It’s my elderly neighbor from the end of the street, and he looks furious. He stops in front of the gate, demanding to know if the dog is mine.

“No, sir,” I reply. “I’m just trying to help.” I recognize the man, though we haven’t been introduced. I’ve only seen him once before, when he looked askance at my car with its Massachusetts license plates. He muttered something then, and I’m pretty sure it was “Damn Yankees”. I paste a friendly, respectful smile on my face. I see the children returning, their mother in tow. The man starts to shout something, the little boys cringe behind their mother and she gives him a death stare. He deflates and becomes visibly meeker. We walk together along the shore, dreading what we’ll find. In the man’s yard is a dog so puffed up with pride, he’s about to burst out of his skin. In his jaws is a very floppy, very dead duck. Blood-tinged feathers are everywhere.

“Bad, bad dog,” says the children’s mother. She seizes him by the collar and he looks slightly less self-assured. She introduces herself as Dana and apologizes to both of us.

“No problem,” I say with a smile. “It wasn’t my duck.” Dana smiles back.

“Well, this is my yard,” the old man says, scowling at the carnage. He’s making it very clear that he’s not picking up the mess. Dana doesn’t look the slightest bit intimidated, but I am.

“I’ll get a bag,” I say, running back home. I return with two enormous garbage bags. I hand one to Dana and hold the other open for her. I’m helpful, but not so helpful as to actually handle the duck. My stomach rebels just thinking about it. She covers her hands with the plastic bag and picks it up, hastily shoving it into the bag I’m holding. It’s heavy and limp. I feel dizzy and squeeze my eyes tightly until the world stops spinning. She takes it from me and ties it shut. I hear a faint “quack” and nearly jump out of my skin. No one else seems to hear it. I tell myself it’s coming from a duck across the pond. The spaniel lunges at the bag, but Dana gives him a scorching glare and he wilts like a lettuce leaf. Impressive. This mom is a badass. I file the look away to use on my own children when they’re mouthy.

Now that the duck is bagged, the old man thaws a bit. “I only yelled at the boys because I was afraid the gator was going to eat their dog,” he explains. “And it looked like they were going to go in the water after him.” The gator? I’m terrified of alligators. I used to have nightmares about them coming out of toilets and chasing me up trees. He produces his phone and shows us footage of a six-foot-long gator hissing at him, right where we’re standing now. “I took this a few days ago,” he says, relishing my response. I scan the water nervously. At that moment, I realize my kids have let themselves out of the gate and are walking along the shore toward us. I feel hysteria rising in my throat and choke it down. They’re up high enough that the alligator can’t lurch out of the water and drag them to a watery death. I think.

Dana takes this in calmly. “I’ll call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline and tell them we have an aggressive one on our hands,” she says. I think we’re both wondering why he bothered to film the creature but not notify the authorities. She apologizes to our neighbor and thanks me for my help. I walk with them until we get to my yard, taking great care to keep between my children and the water’s edge. Buster, my Shi-tsu, hurls himself flat on the ground as Chet passes by. His tiny body quivers with respect and envy. He knows that if he went after a duck, he’d get pecked to death. The spaniel tosses his head and grins, his tongue lolling out. He is having the best day of his life. Dana looks at him sadly. “I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to keep him if he keeps busting out,” she says with a sigh. “It’s very nice to meet you, despite the circumstances. Our kids are the same age. We should get together some time.” I agree. I would like to study her and learn the art of intimidation. She and her children walk home. I watch them a moment, wondering what she’s going to do with the contents of the bag.

That evening, I take Buster for a walk past her house. The most delicious aroma of grilled meat hangs heavily in the air. I can’t place it. Is it beef? Chicken? Is it…duck?

Kids: Great for the Self-Esteem

Zoë: “Mom, could you dye your hair orange and wear a belly shirt and be Kim Possible for Halloween?” She pulls up my shirt to test the effect.
Me: “No, I want to be a pirate.” (And keep my belly under wraps, thank you very much).
Silas (admiringly): “Your belly is round and poofy and fatty.” He leans over and gives it a kiss.
Me: “Uh, thanks.” He means well.
Silas: “Why do you have so many moles?”
Me: “They just grew.”
Silas: “I’m sorry you grew them, Mom. I’m so sorry.”
Me: “I’m not. I kind of like them.”
Zoë: “How do you get rid of them?”
Me: “Surgery, but I don’t want–”
Kids: “Surg-er-y! Sur-ger-y! Sur-ger-y!”

My husband is fixing me a cocktail now, to calm my nerves and contribute to the poofy belly.

Mama Bear

A week and a half ago, my children started their new school. My family moved cross-country just a few weeks ago, from a tiny town at the edge of Massachusetts to a sprawling suburb outside of Jacksonville, Florida. We moved to be closer to my husband’s parents. He’s an only child and we were glad to be able to do so. It’s lovely to be within easy reach of them.


It’s beautiful here on Fleming Island, with grass so green it looks photoshopped, sprawling golf courses, pretty little ponds here and there, and the St. Johns river hugging us on one side and Doctors Lake shimmering enticingly at us from the other. Did I mention the Spanish moss? I glory in the stuff. It droops from the trees like a misty mantilla veil, and it’s everywhere.


Erving, our old town, was lovely too, and there are many things to miss about it, but most of all, I miss my children’s old school. It has a little over one hundred students from kindergarten to sixth grade, and seemingly almost as many teachers. As I mentioned before, my son is on the autism spectrum. The little school and its wise, compassionate teachers were perfect for my children. The students understood my son’s issues and were patient with him. They celebrated his differences. He felt loved. I could write dozens of blog posts on just how incredible my children’s last school is.

I knew that whichever school we enrolled him in after moving would have a tough act to follow. His new school is highly rated, in the top ten percent of public schools in Florida. The school population here is about seven times what it is in Erving. The teachers we’ve spoken to all seem pleasant. My daughter, who is neurotypical (“normal”, whatever that means) has expressed how much she likes her teacher and her classmates. She wakes up every morning looking forward to the day. My son, however, drags his feet and begs to stay home. Change is hard for every child, but for those with ASD, it’s excruciating. He can’t easily communicate, so that leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. My imagination runs wild, trying to troubleshoot for every possible scenario. Are the other children kind to him? Is there a bully in his class? Are the teachers able to give him the attention he needs? Could they be judging some of his stimming (bursting into song during class, random shouts, waving his arms) as naughtiness? My mind goes to some terrifying places pretty quickly. My thoughts range from “maybe he’ll have to repeat third grade” to “maybe they’re locking him in the basement” (even though nobody has basements in Florida, and his teacher seems very sweet).

My husband and I have been able to make some contact with his teacher, and we’ll be going to an IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting early next week, to discuss what services he’ll get. Oh, how I’ve been over that meeting in my head a million times already. I’ve been imagining all kinds of conversations. Some end with me saying: “This is going to be a great school for him; you folks really understand my son,” but most end with me snarling at the staff: “Oh yeah? You’ll hear from my lawyer about this, you child-hating fiends!” (I don’t have a lawyer).

I’m really a sane person, I swear I am. And I’m definitely not a helicopter parent. I never thought the term “Mama Bear” applied to me. But here in an unfamiliar place, my protect-at-all costs instincts are raging and threatening to override my judgment. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m in perimenopause and experiencing hot flashes and mood swings. Heaven preserve those poor teachers from raging Mama Bears like me. Amen.